The Real Inspector Hound by Tom Stoppard. Directed by Jonathan Croy.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"Hel-lo! (Pause) It’s for you. (Pause)"
Tom Stoppard’s juicy little one-act farce, "The Real Inspector Hound," a take-off on Agatha Christie thrillers and a take-down of theater critics, is putting in an appearance at Shakespeare and Company’s Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre as a two-act, rip-roaring action comedy under the deft direction of Jonathan Croy. There seems to be nothing this man doesn’t know about getting a laugh and get them he does with a wonderful production of this odd play.
The plot is simple for something so convoluted: two critics attending a new play ultimately become entangled in the action of the piece. The same character, but not the same person, is killed twice and the mystery unravels in short order under the clear and unsubtle eye of the real Inspector Hound. That’s all you need to know, but you do have to keep those simple facts in mind as Croy’s deliciously expanded production of the play woos you and confuses you.
For example, the housekeeper, Mrs. Drudge, played here by Meg O’Connor, has been given the gift of blindness, not something the author asks for in the script. The resultant mishaps that occur are hilarious, much funnier than the situations call for in Stoppard’s written version of the show. O’Connor is absolute perfection in the role.
Similarly, the passions aroused in Simon Gascoyne, played with elan and fervor by David Joseph, by Lady Cynthia Muldoon who is brought to lickalicious life by Dana Harrison are way over even Stoppard’s imaginative top. Croy has this couple in a liplock that takes them back and forth across the stage, over furniture, onto the floor, and practically into the laps of the audience. Again, a far cry from the more "subtle" writing of farcical Stoppard.
Is this a good thing or a bad thing, one wonders. The answer comes back loud and clear: Croy is a genius at making very good material look so much better.
As the two critics who banter, argue, monologuize and become too involved with their work, Enrico Spada as Moon and Josh Aaron McCabe as Birdboot are splendid. Birdboot’s entrance, for example, is expanded from the simple description in Stoppard’s play in order to engage us for nearly five minutes with side-splitting hilarity. Their banter is delicious in tone and leaves the audience contemplating their intelligence and their forbearance; their physical interplay is both terrorizing and sweet.
Scott Renzoni as Major Magnus Muldoon and Wolfe Coleman as Inspector Hound each have moments of splendor. Renzoni, in particular, pulls off the transformation of the individual with what appears to be the miracle of ressurection. Alexandra Lincoln does all right as Felicity Cunningham, a woman wronged over and over again.
The physical production is absolutely lovely and one of this company’s finest all season. Govane Lohbauer has gone out of her way to supply perfect costumes and the show plays out on Patrick Brennan’s beautiful set with some of the funniest pieces of furniture imaginable. Stephen Ball’s fine lighting enhances the images and Michael Pfeifer does some nifty work with sound cues and music.
But it really is Jonathan Croy’s show. As good as everyone else is in this comedy the farce of the matter is the director’s hilarious vision and his ability to wring three laughs out of one handkerchief. That is directing and what comes out of this really informs his choices throughout the play. Here is a talent in charge of the stage. Fortunately he has a company of players who must trust and admire him, for it would seem that nothing was too difficult or troublesome to be ignored and no challenge went unanswered.
To simply say I laughed myself silly isn’t enough, but it feels sufficient. I enjoyed this a lot and I think you will too.
The Real Inspector Hound plays through November 7 at the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre at Shakespeare and Company, located at 70 Kemble Street in Lenox, MA. For information and tickets call the box office at 413-637-3353.
Josh Aaron McCabe and Enrico Spada; photo: Kevin Sprague
Meg O'Connor; photo: Kevin Sprague
David Joseph and Dana Harrison; photo: Kevin Sprague