Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, July 2009
“To: Father Brown, Mr. Philip Trent, Mr. Max Carrados, Dr. Reginald Fortune, Mr. Roger Sheringham, Mr. Albert Campion, Mr. Nigel Strangeways, Lord Peter Wimsey, Dr. Gideon Fell, Monsieur Hercule Poirot, and all their omniscient, eccentric, amateur gentlemen colleagues, this play is dedicated with sincere regard and affection.”
– Athony Shaffer, dedication to Sleuth
The more names you recognize on the list above, the more you will enjoy Sleuth, Anthony Shaffer’s 1970 Tony Award-winning mystery/thriller. If you haven’t already seen it, of course, but since almost forty years have elapsed since first took the theatre world by storm, there is the potential for a whole new generation to become addicted.
Barrington Stage has mounted a stylish production starring the very handsome and charming Charles Shaughnessy as Andrew Wyke, the famous British mystery writer who invites his ex-wife Marguerite’s lover, Milo Tindle (Jeremy Bobb) over for a drink and a game. A game of what? That’s a good question because you see Andrew Wyke LOVES games. The drawing room of his Norman manor house in Wiltshire, England, is full of them...and books...and macabre curios...and a whole secret closet full of costumes. Oh, and a safe full of priceless jewelry that he proposes Milo steal to finance his new life with Marguerite while he collects the insurance money.
I cannot tell you more than that without giving away the many, many twists and turns this tale takes. Robert E. Lawson, Vincent Marks, and Sean McNulty round out the cast as the obligatory plodding coppers, but “Sleuth” is all about Wyke and Tindle and the games they play.
Shaughnessy is not a familiar face on Berkshire stages, but he will be familiar to TV viewers from his six-year run as Fran Drescher’s character’s employer and eventual husband, Maxwell Sheffield, on The Nanny or his earlier eight-year stint as Shane Donovan on the soap Days of Our Lives. He is, thankfully, really, truly, genuinely British, and, after listening to way too many bad phony British accents on regional stages over the years, it is a real pleasure to hear the Queen’s English spoken by a loyal subject and peer (he inherited the title of Baron in 2007 upon the death of his second cousin.)
Shaughnessy says in his program bio that he has loved Sleuth since he first saw it in London as a teenager, and he obviously relishes playing Wyke, which is important because we, the audience, have to buy in to Wyke’s intense love of puzzles and games.
Bobb, unfortuneately, became more and more effeminate as the play wore on, and I was already for his Tindle to come out of the closet, but that never happened. Director Jesse Berger needs to check this inclination towards the fey in Bobb for him to be believable as the “Other Man” in a heterosexual love triangle.
But Bobb falls downstairs better than just about any other actor I’ve ever seen (Tony Rivera did a great stair-tumble in the Cohoes Music Hall production of Chicago the other year, but he didn’t do it on his face it). He is at his best and most believable in the first act, which ends dramatically with an almost liquid stair descent.
Scenic Designer David Barber has designed a dark, spooky, and decidedly off-kilter two-story set, which fills the BSC Main Stage but leaves plenty of room for fisticuffs and provides suitably dark nooks and crannies for nefarious doings.
I wish Berger and Barber had left in Shaffer’s lines where Wyke explains some of the more obscure board games has owns. There was one game downstage center that my companion and I were fascinated by and couldn’t name. It turns out that it was Senat (or Senet) an ancient Egyptian blocking game, similar, I am told, to Nine Man Morris, which I also wouldn’t recognize if I fell over it. It is possible that it too resides on the set and I didn’t know it.
Clint Ramos has done a nice job with the costumes, providing perfect plumy British leisurewear for Wyke and an entertaining closet full of “dress-up clothes” that appears with satisfying cleverness from Barber’s set. But that lavender dress-shirt for Tindle did nothing to dispel the effete qualities Bobb inadvertently embodied.
Brad Berridge’s sound level was way too loud at the start of the play, but modulated to an acceptable level quickly. The only thing that drove me mad was that overly loud, incessant ticking all during intermission. What was supposed to be building suspense was merely building my ire.
If you have never seen Sleuth, book your tickets now. This is an entertaining whodunit (and what, exactly, did he do?) well played.
The Barrington Stage Company production of the Sleuth runs through August 1 at the Main Stage, 30 Union Street in Pittsfield, MA. The show runs two hours and fifteen minutes with one intermission and is suitable for mystery lovers ages 10 and up. Please call the box office at (413) 236-8888 or visit www.barringtonstageco.org to purchase tickets or for more information.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2009
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