Periscope Depth

the man at the back has a question

The Real Inspector Hound: an entertaining little production of a Tom Stoppard classic. The play begins as an oddly mediocre British murder mystery, which the audience watches along with two theater critics. However, by the second act it becomes clear that the traditional delineation between play and audience is being broken – at least for the critics, and likely for us as well. Expect the usual Stoppard wordplay and absurdity.

Staging it in the round, rather than a proscenium, gives the production some unique challenges as well as opportunities. There’s a lot of business that goes on in front of a lit backdrop that was lost from where I was sitting. Seating the critics in the audience helps create the immersion that the meta-narrative requires, but it forces half the audience to crane their necks a bit. Fortunately, several creative bits take advantage of the open space and the crossing angles, particularly the contract bridge game and the second act tea service.

The performances are all sharp and clever. Danny Bryck, as the mysterious stranger Simon Gascoigne, exhibits excellent chemistry with his female leads. Cynthia (Georgia Lyman) and Felicity (Anna Waldron) portray both the warmth of infatuation and the chill of scorn with equal intensity. Mrs. Drudge (Sheriden Thomas) steals every scene in which she has a line through excellent comic timing. And the two critics, Moon and Birdboot (Barlow Adamson and William Gardiner, BU’s drama instructor), have mastered Stoppard’s dialogue and deliver it boldly. When the focus has to bounce between the critics and the stage – the critics commenting on a scene as it unfolds – the timing suffers a little, however. Maybe due to acoustics, maybe due to energy.

There was a Q&A with the director and the cast after the performance we saw. Unfortunately, learning more about what went into the show dampened my enthusiasm for it. The director took an interpretation of the script that discards Stoppard’s crossover between reality and fiction. Instead, it’s a literal read that tries to ground the play in the world the critics occupy. Hearing that was somewhat disappointing; it made a bunch of otherwise clever choices seem a little flat. I also don’t think the play needed an intermission – it’s a one-act play as written – although breaking up the momentum did make the opening of the second act hilarious. And, as mentioned before, a lot of the staging choices were obscured, if not outright invisible, to a large portion of the audience. Ultimately, I found the performances more compelling than the director’s interpretation.