July 26, 2009 performance reviewed by Ed McDonnell
Andrew Wyke, central character in Sleuth, loves games, and that’s good. He makes a living as a mystery writer and his enormous enthusiasm has paid off. His pride in his English manor house, all the nice things in it and his efforts to live in a gentlemanly style, as he interprets it, are evident with the curtain’s rise. The busy set at Barrington Stage Company (David Barber) is as promising and evocative as a campfire for a story such as this, is in fact the first character we see.
Wyke’s zeal not only sustains itself in his career, it has spilled over into his private life. Wyke (Charles Shaughnessy) has invited his wife’s lover, Milo (Jeremy Bobb), over to have a bit of a chat. The talents of Bobb and Shaughnessy being more than adequate for the verbal match that follows, and their dead-on rhythms working together make for a natural, well-paced and witty exchange, such that even the sound of the play is a thorough pleasure.
This, though, is the foundation for much more: a string of schemes and daring notions, revelations of razor-edged contempt and resentment, and the staging of an audacious crime in disguise, so hilarious as to almost derail one’s concentration (thank you Clint Ramos for this subtle stroke). Not only playwright Anthony Shaffer and the players but director Jesse Berger should be recognized for balancing this daunting production.
Its unevenness is a good thing, essential to its brightness, but it IS uneven. Berger appreciates that and manages it, and exploits the good circus-act fun therein. He avoids numerous moments that could be tedious in lesser hands. By intermission the plot has been put together, heated up, thickened and overturned onto the floor.
The atmosphere is dense with malice, glee, and danger; the police inspector’s visit hints a note of actual menace, and within minutes we are dragged in another direction. A new color is added when an entire police team descends on the house. Doppler, Taurant, and Higgs, played respectively by Sean McNulty, Robert E. Lawson, and Vincent Marks, in a casting coup, establish the “command presence” of the law officer so well known to all of us.
Theater can inspire, and instruct, and much more. We are fortunate to have it all in this part of the country, all year round. Theater that entertains is as valuable and essential, at times more so, than the other kinds. A show like Sleuth is valuable indeed.