'The Mousetrap'

With all of its elements as a classic mystery — an old English manor, a dark and stormy night and an unsolved murder — Agatha Christie's "The Mousetrap" premiered in 1952 at the Theatre Royal in Nottingham, England, and has run continuously since. "The Mousetrap" was produced at one theater after another in England before settling in at St. Martin's Theatre in London in 1974.

Oregon Stage Works in Ashland will open its production of the stage play Thursday, Jan. 28. Previews are set for Tuesday and Wednesday, Jan. 26 & 27. Shows are at 8 p.m.

"This year, the London production is in its 58th year," says Doug Ham, director of OSW's production. "It's had more than 26,000 continuous performances" — a fact that makes "Mousetrap" the longest running show in history.

Ham has his own long history with "The Mousetrap."

"It is near and dear to me," Ham says. "I've directed it twice, on the 30th and 50th anniversaries of the London production, in Northern California: once at Benicia's Old Town Theatre and at Role Players in Danville."

On the 30th anniversary of the London production, Ham had the opportunity to meet Sir Peter Saunders, the play's original producer.

"He was a typical, straightforward English gentlemen," Ham says. "He was able to keep the show fresh and keep audiences coming back by recasting the play and hiring a new director every year."

Ham says every cast brings its own ideas to a play and that he likes to work as a team effort.

"There are certainly aspects of 'The Mousetrap' that I know have to be there, although I have preconceived ideas about its characters and the idea that their suspicions of each other is important to keep the audience in suspense," Ham says.

"The Mousetrap" also is known for ending with a twist, and — in the same tradition of the performances of St. Martin's — Ham asks audiences not to reveal the identity of the killer, so that the play isn't spoiled for future audiences.

"The story is so well crafted, for Agatha Christie's time and era," Ham says.

The OSW production of "The Mousetrap" will feature Sophia Palosaari and Joel Handley as Mollie and Giles Ralston, proprietors of Monkswell Manor. Mark Barsekian will play Christopher Wren, a peculiar young man who is the first to arrive at the manor. Barbara Rosen will play the complaining Mrs. Boyle, who is murdered shortly after she arrives and therefore is the only character above suspicion.

The other guests will be played by Dara Goldman, Richard Heller and Terry Kolkey. Sam King will play Detective Sergeant Trotter, who breaks through a blizzard to warn the guests that one of them may be a killer. Will he catch the villain in time?

"The characters are all so different," Ham says. "But there are common links, which makes the story all the more interesting."

Ham is originally from the San Francisco Bay Area. He holds a bachelor of arts in theater from California State University in Hayward. He teaches technical theater at Ashland High School and will direct the school's production of "The Importance of Being Earnest" in May and design the musical "Grease," to be presented by AHS in February.

For about 20 years, Ham visited Ashland twice a year to review plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for the Vallejo Times-Herald. It was just a matter of time before Ham discovered the job at AHS.

Ham also designed OSW's set for "The Mousetrap," with help on construction from Bill Clark and Robert Fort. Costume design is by Linda Tye.

The Medford law firm of Black, Chapman, Webber & Stevens will sponsor the production.

"The Mousetrap" will play at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. Sundays through Feb. 28. Tickets are $17, $12 for students 21 and younger with valid student identification. Preview tickets are $15, $12 for student.

Tickets are available online at www.oregonstageworks.org, by calling 541-482-2334 or at the door.

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