Accompliceby Rupert Holmes. Directed by Stephen Rothman.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"Humor, Janet, or at least my half-ditch effort!"
Janet’s husband, Derek, is a nasty piece of work, at least as portrayed by Hal - the author and director of his own play, written for his wife Erica who is playing the lead and producing the show. A comedy-thriller, this play within a play, that is meant to be funny turns ultimately into a harsh takedown of one human spirit and even that is funny, or tragic, or sensational, or something just as good. Or not. Everything depends upon the title figure, the accomplice in whichever scheme you choose to believe in or not believe in as the case may be.
Author Rupert Holmes, best known for his 1987 musical play, "The Mystery of Edwin Drood," and for his 56 episode TV series for AMC, "Remember WENN" about a 1930's radio station, and for his work on the final Kander and Ebb musical, "Curtains" in 2007. In a few weeks his latest play with Tonya Pinkins, Lee Sellars, Tom Skerritt, and Ashley Williams opens on Broadway at the Richard Rodgers Theater: "A Time to Kill" based on the John Gresham novel.
Accomplice opened in 1990, Holmes’ second show on Broadway and only lasted a scant seventy-five performances with Jason Alexander, Pamela Brull, and Michael McKean. Maybe it was just a wrong cast or perhaps it was the plot which is so convoluted that I cannot recount it here, but it didn’t attract an audience which the current production at Shakespeare and Company certainly did on opening night when there wasn’t a seat in the house, nor a dry eye in the seats. Some cried because laughter was just too exhausting, some because a beloved character was being betrayed by associates. But either way, or just combine them, this is a show you cannot help laugh through and also cannot resist loving.
The cast, listed in the program, is from the high end of this company’s roster: Jonathan Croy, Elizabeth Aspenlieder, Jason Asprey and newcomer Annie Considine, locally grown and just terrific. Even the understudy list is impressive for this run: Kate Abbruzzese, Dana Harrison, Josh Aaron McCabe, Andy Talen. Any one of these people could be main company at any time. With luck you will see exactly who you are supposed to see, but let no announcement of a replacement deter you. They’re all worth the money!
The company has assigned a first-rate team of professionals to dress the stage of the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre including Patrick Brennan to design the sets, Esther Van Eek to design the costumes, James W. Bilnoski to design the lights, Ian Sturgess Milliken to design the sound and write incidental music, and a company favorite, Tom Rindge, to be the production manager. This team makes the most of each of their special moments on this stage and you will be amazed at the range of talent displayed here.
What is this play about? Well, it is a mystery play naturally. There are murders, attempted murders, implied murders, rehearsed murders, fake murders, real murders, dead men walking, dead women springing up, theatrical murder weapons, real murder weapons, knives, guns, powders, tonics, gin, tequila, scotch and diet soda in the mixture along with stage blood, cigarettes, nooses, hide-a-beds, red panties, black lace bras, black leather, straight-back chairs, easy chairs, scripts, telephones, books, recording devices, rain, sunshine, and even a bit of moonshine backstage I’m sure. Yes, this is play about murder, a mystery play that takes you to levels of convivial congenial co-dependence that will shake the complacency right out of you.
As Hal says to almost everyone at some point in this play "you play the title role." The accomplice in Accomplice is the last person standing and if you wait long enough in this show there is bound to be a standing ovation as well. Director Stephen Rothman brings a wealth of experience with this play into this production and the outcome is a generous helping of good humor (though not the ice cream) slathered about the most familiar sight on any Shakespeare and Company stage - the finely wrought legs of Elizabeth Aspenlieder, long may she remain in this show and no understudies here please.
Opening nights can be tough on the actors in a show like this and the tiny flubs of lines or action that I heard and saw may never occur again, but if they do this is a company of professionals who can sop up, like thick gravy, any mistake and just move forward. As for newcomer Annie Considine, let this be the beginning of a happy relationship with this company to be followed by many, many wonderful roles for her. Though her role of Melinda may not be the one she cherishes, her career will take off like a Harley, I am certain.
This is one of those plays that no reviewer, no critic can do justice to in just about seven hundred words. It would take a book to totally master the twists and turns of plot here, to give Rupert Holmes work its due. Suffice it to say that missing an opportunity to watch the inner workings of a diabolically clever mind would be a mistake. You will want to go back and see it again, to see where the clues are hidden, to find where, exactly, things alter and shift. And who knows you might see one of the understudies like McCabe whose past performances have been delightful, just like the quartet of star players who are supposed to populate this play. All I can say after two and a half hours of this quizzical mystery thriller comedy is "Bravi!" That’s the plural.
Elizabeth Aspenlieder; photo: Enrico Spada
Jason Asprey; photo: Enrico Spada
Annie Considine; photo: Enrico Spada
Accomplice plays at the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre on the Shakespeare and Company campus at 70 Kemble Street in Lenox, Massachusetts through November 10. Call the box office at 413-637-3353 for information and tickets, or go on line at www.shakespeare.org.