Saturday, September 4, 2010

Moon to Moon: The Real Inspector Hound

The Publick Theatre's The Real Inspector Hound 
About 16 years ago, I was in a college production of Tom Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound. I was a big fan of Stoppard’s, having found him through his film adaptation of his most well-known play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. I was a huge high school Monty Python nerd (I was told by my high school guidance counselor that my “Monty Pythonish sense of humor” was a distraction to my schoolmates and thus, no National Honors Society for me).

It was an easy transition from Python to Stoppard. And I had spent enough time parroting Python sketches that I had a pretty good English accent. At least for a kid from tractor country. So I was excited to audition and show off my abilities. Alas, we did the show without accents.

I played Moon, a second-string theatre critic watching a second-rate murder mystery with a fellow critic. Hard to say much more without giving it away, but I got to literally jump off of the stage at the audience in the end, breaking that fourth wall in an utterly ridiculous way. It was as much fun as I’ve ever had onstage.

Back to the present. I noticed a couple of days ago that the Publick Theatre in Boston was mounting Hound at the BCA. I felt a wave of goodwill, and made arrangements to see it Friday night, the second night of previews.

I was admittedly excited to see the play. I realized when I got there, and started looking around the set, that I had never actually seen the play, just been in it and read it. Despite a thick fog surrounding Boston and promises over the past 36 hours of a plague of frogs, the theater was mostly full. I sometimes wonder what kind of demographic enjoys Stoppard, and it seemed like a fairly diverse crowd in terms of age and relative hipness.

The college production I participated in (I am hesitant to say it rose to the level of “acting”) was a one-act play. Director Diego Arciniegas’s program notes mention that Hound is often on the bill with other one acts. But Arciniegas has always thought the play needed more room to breathe, and this production gives it that room, as a stand-alone 90-minute play.

“Taking our cue from the playwright,” he writes, “we set about to give the play the time it deserves, placing an intermission where Stoppard suggests there might be one, and suggesting another at an appropriate place.”

One of the themes of the play is breaking the fourth wall, as the critics and the cast of the play they are watching become inextricably intertwined. Arciniegas and his cast take that one step further – the characters Felicity Cunningham, Inspector Hound, and Simon Gascoyne all have Facebook pages which, in his introduction, the director encourages the audience to join. It’s a brilliant and fun device, keeping the audience involved even after they’ve left the theater.

The show’s pacing is perfect. The breathing room is obvious, especially directly after the intermission, when we rejoin the story at tea time. Arciniegas also takes the intermission as an opportunity for a well-placed gag, not that the show lacks laughs anywhere along the line.

The cast is first-rate, especially Gabriel Kuttner as Magnus in his wandering electric wheelchair and Sheridan Thomas, who plays Mrs. Drudge with a cockney deadpan reminiscent of Peter Cook. And they do some of their best work at final bows.

Yes, there is a meta aspect to this – more than 16 years after playing theatre critic Moon, I am an arts and entertainment writer, and to top it off, I’m reviewing the play I was in. For this particular play, nothing could be more appropriate.

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