Monday, September 20, 2010

The BC Q&A: Inspector Hound director Diego Arciniegas

Hound director Diego Arciniegas
If you haven’t already seen the Publick Theatre’s production of Tom Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound, this week is your last chance. The play is at the BCA through September 25. I caught it in previews, and can say that fans of this site who enjoy English comedy – Monty Python, Eddie Izzard, Beyond the Fringe – will enjoy Stoppard and this play. You can see my review here.

If you want to interact with the characters beforehand, you can become Facebook friends or fans (find the links on Director Diego Arciniegas and his cast also have a few surprises even for those familiar with the play. Traditionally a one-act paired with Stoppard's After Magritte, the Publick production stands alone, with a few ingenius additions to make it a 90-minute play.

I spoke with Arciniegas via e-mail this weekend.

When did you first encounter The Real Inspector Hound?

My first exposure to the play was when I was a freshman in high school. Our Theatre Department took it to the Massachusetts High School Drama Festival.

Have you directed it before?

Yes, once, when I was teaching at a boarding school in England. It was a very different production (I still have pictures). Felicity had a can of Sprite in her hand during her scene with Simon - I don't know why now.

What made you decide to do it this time?

I wanted to do something funny, smart and full of wordplay. I think comedy is a better idea-delivery-system than drama these days. I knew there was a bigger, edgier play lurking within this play and was interested in exploring that.

Did you consider doing it in its original one-act form with After Magritte?

Actually no. I noticed that within the play there are supposed to be two intermissions (three act plays were quite the thing in murder mysteries). I actually considered having two intermissions, but then realized that as the play spirals out of control, I wanted the intermissions to get faster and faster like in a fun house.

The tea scene is the obvious beneficiary of giving the play more time – where else did you target to add some space?

The beginning of the play, the false starts. Stoppard's stage directions have Moon already in the audience and detail how he turns the pages one after another. I found that a little undramatic, so I substituted the repeated false starts. That put some time on the production. Also having Mrs. Drudge vacuuming for a good 20 seconds as the start of the play added some time.

I noticed that Stoppard, through the character of Birdboot, sets down some pretty rigid rules of theatre, and then the playwright smashes those rules. "You can't start with a pause" (the vacuuming), and yet the play starts with a pause. I detected a young playwright rebelling against the conventions of theatre and brilliantly making them work. But actually the running time of this play is normally about 50 - 60 minutes. So we only really put about fifteen more minutes on the play. It is the inclusion of an fifteen minute intermission that brings us to 90 minutes.
The Real Inspector Hound at the BCA
How did the Facebook idea come about?

It seemed the logical extension of the metatheatrical nature of the play. If we supposed that this was really happening, and that these were real people committing the perfect murder and burying it in plain sight. And if it was true that these theatre critics get caught up in the world of the play, than it only made sense that they should have a life outside the theatre as well. I also roped the House Manager and the Stage Manager into doing performative things as well. So I guess this is all a long-winded way of saying that it was part of the attempt to blurr the boundaries of what was real and what wasn't.

I don’t want to give away the surprise for the intermission, but whose idea was that?

It was the audience's idea really. I think we had confused them so profoundly that they needed to know it was safe and okay to get up out of their seats. In previews they weren't getting up because they didn't want to miss anything, and I felt it was cruel to mess with their minds too much.

Stoppard has called Hound a kind of mechanical wind-up toy, that it has lasted somehow with very little change. Are you familiar with that description? Do you agree with it?

Basically I do, but I think he gives himself less credit than he deserves. If it is a wind up toy, it is closer to the out-of-control robots might see in Terminator or some movie like that. There's a danger and a darkness lurking in the play that the term "mechanical wind-up toy" doesn't do justice to. But I agree about the mechanistic nature of the play.

Did you discuss anything else to break the fourth wall that you decided against?

Some of my actors who were dead at the end of the play did not want to get up for the curtain call. I thought that would be pompous and pretentious. The evening’s entertainment had to end after all. So the resulting compromise was the curtain call as you see it now.

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