note: entire contents copyright 2010 by Sheila Barth
In Tom Stoppard’s “The Real Inspector Hound” --- a parody of murder mysteries and play-within-a-play that he penned in 1968 --- the audience and two “planted” theater critics become increasingly swept into the action on stage. The small Boston Center for the Arts (BCA) Plaza Theatre is the perfect venue for Stoppard’s closed set, farcical whodunnit, and scathing critique of self-impressed theater critics.
Dahlia Al-Habieli has created the ideal parlor for “charming but isolated Muldoon Manor,” that’s surrounded by “desolate marshes and treacherous swamps”. Although we can’t see it, we know the stereotypical fog is rolling in, making the manor less accessible to visitors. And, yes, the word is out that a madman murderer is on the run and probably hiding somewhere in this improbable, unreachable setting.
As the audience waits for the play to begin, and Publick Theatre Artistic Director Diego Arciniegas delivers his opening comments, he is irritatingly interrupted a few times by late-comers. He sallies forth unruffled, but the play continues to be interrupted by two garrulous critics seated in the audience. Their self-serving conversation and comments irritatingly supersede the creepy music, setting and action on stage. What’s worse is that their phony British accents make it difficult at times for eavesdroppers to hear what they’re saying. Birdboot, (portrayed by William Gardiner) --- a heavyset, bald, mustached and bearded first-string theater critic --- assails second-string critic Moon, (portrayed by veteran actor Barlow Adamson) --- and everyone else --- with his pompous barrage of verbiage.
Meanwhile, Moon is licking his wounds as a last-minute replacement for higher-up critic Higgs, who failed to show up to cover this murder mystery.
No doubt Stoppard (a former theater critic) is a splendid wordsmith with a gargantuan gift of comedy and irony; which is most evident in “The Real Inspector Hound”. He deftly melds mystery with reality, fusing the play’s murders beyond the plot.
Dramatic music, along with Jeff Adelberg’s fine lighting and John Doershuk’s comical and mysterious sound effects, heighten Stoppard’s satirical tone.
Arciniegas has also amassed a talented cast and crew. Sheriden Thomas as the play’s dour, shuffling housemaid (appropriately named Mrs. Drudge) is delightful. She delivers all lines with monotone drudgery, tossing in clues and facts as she answers the phone and performs other simple household tasks.
Veteran actor Gabriel Kuttner, whose versatility is boundless, is also outstanding as wheelchair-bound Major Magnus Muldoon of Canada, embittered brother of missing-presumed-dead magnate Angus Muldoon. Magnus is in love with his brother’s widow, Cynthia, and resentful of her young lover, Simon Gascoyne.
The rest of the cast is fine, too: Boston actress Georgia Lyman as the lovely Cynthia Muldoon; Danny Bryck as Simon; Anna Waldron as Simon’s spurned mistress and Cynthia’s young friend, Felicity Cunningham; Wayne Fritsche as inept Inspector Hound; and Andrew Codispoti, the inert, undiscovered corpse throughout the play.
Gardiner and Adamson remain in character, mingling with theatergoers in the audience and through intermission, then taking center stage in the second act, integrating with the characters during brief re-runs of events. As Birdboot declares his fidelity to his wife, Myrtle, he also has a roving eye and lascivious desire for both actresses.
Following Birdboot’s lead on stage, Moon hopes to gain a stronger foothold as a primary critic. Their fates become interwoven, leaving the audience to ponder where the play-within-a-play ends and the realistic play takes over.
Who’s the real murderer McCoy? Who’s the real Inspector Hound? Who are the real victims? Who’s the real philanderer? And what do real critics do with this farce?
Like any mystery, the answers, dear fans, lie within yourselves and whether you choose to venture to the BCA.
Two-act mystery spoof written by Tom Stoppard, directed by Diego Arciniegas, appearing with the Publick Theatre of Boston now through September 25 at the Boston Center for the Arts (BCA) Plaza Theatre, 539 Tremont St., South End, Boston. Performances are Wednesdays, Thursdays, 7:30 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3,8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Tickets are $37.50. Call 617-933-8600 or visit www.bostontheatrescene.com.