Brynn Gordon, Alex Haydon, John Aurelius, Janice Walter & Charlotte Campbell in The Real Inspector Hound
Photo-Acting Against Cancer
The Real Inspector Hound
Written by Tom Stoppard
Directed by Reny Sisk
Review by Ben Gierhart
Entire contents are copyright © 2015 Ben Gierhart. All rights reserved.
It is said that one never reads the Director’s Notes in the program to a play. This is a shame, for it is in a note from the director that a show’s aim and purpose is most explicitly laid out for the audience. To borrow a snippet from director Remy Sisk’s note, it defines “what is real and what is theatre” for not only the world of the play but the ephemeral world of that particular production. In this case however, it’s okay if one lives up to the stereotype and skips the note, as Mr. Sisk and the rest of the creative team of Acting Against Cancer work overtime to immerse one fully into the world of Tom Stoppard’s stunning and deceptively simple play, The Real Inspector Hound.
Exiting the elevator and journeying into the ‘The Underground Hound Lounge’, the clever name for Acting Against Cancer’s preshow immersive experience, is to traverse through time. Vintage movie posters, dim lighting appropriate to the furtive dealings of a speakeasy, and a sultry lounge singer (music performed live by Gayle King) add to the ambience. Not to be forgotten are the cast who, similar to that of a murder mystery party, is available to the audience for in-character interaction. Each cast member is fully up to the task and further enriches the experience. Most importantly, it is here that the audience is given the unique opportunity to learn more about the characters they will soon be see on stage. It should also be mentioned that The Alley Theatre was once nothing more than offices, and it is this reviewer’s humble opinion that ‘The Underground Hound Lounge’ is the best use of the relatively recently transformed space yet.
After a rousing beverage of choice (free with admission) and some fun, participatory shenanigans including handcuffing of guests, assistance in some “last minute rehearsal,” and the opening of a locked briefcase, a gunshot rings throughout the space, abruptly ending the reality of the Lounge and signaling the transition to the stage. The house opens and the scripted world of the production begins.
Upon entering the house, one sees the body of an only-moments-ago deceased guest (played convincingly by Craig Nolan Highley) crumpled on the floor center stage. After allowing a few moments for the audience to take their seats, the show begins. One should go into this production with the aspiration of remaining unspoiled. That is half the fun in a murder mystery after all. The play borrows heavily from Agatha Christie’s seminal work The Mousetrap, so in the spirit and tradition of that play, this reviewer will keep as many of the details of the plot of Hound to himself as possible.
As far as a brief synopsis goes, events begin with theater critics Moon (Charlie Meredith) and Birdfoot (Andrew Mertz) reviewing a play set in Lady Muldoon’s country residence. In this play, all of the cliche pieces of a murder mystery are present. This is more than welcome as the tone is decidedly one of satire. There is the maid Mrs. Drudge (Janice Walter), a mysterious young man named Simon Gascoyne (Alex Haydon), the ingenue Felicity Cunningham (Brynn Gordon), Lady of the house and widow Cynthia Muldoon (Charlotte Campbell), wheelchair-bound gun enthusiast Major Magnus (Shauvon McGill), and the Real(?) Inspector Hound himself (John Aurelius). Chelsey Jackson also lends her talents in some of the production’s funnier, expository moments as the Radio Announcer.
In true Stoppard fashion, and what makes this play more than a simple parody of murder mysteries, the realities of the play and play within a play gradually begin to converge in unexpected and provocative ways. As mentioned previously, spoilers will be avoided, but as the title might suggest, the true question spinning throughout the audience’s minds is “Who is the real Inspector Hound?”
Each of the actors plays his or her role well. Janice Walter and Shauvon McGill, as maid and major respectively, in particular seem to have a ball with some of the play’s more tongue-in-cheek, self-aware jokes, and Charlie Meredith shines as the play shifts into exploration of its deeper themes. The real star of the show, however, is Kathryn Spivey’s scenic design. Simple yet detailed, the set transforms a less than ideal performance space into a believable Muldoon Manor. There is a painting of the set that contains a painting of the set and so on, creating an interesting Droste effect, hanging over the mantel center stage, and it is that attention to detail that marks this production of The Real Inspector Hound as being in the capable hands of someone who deeply understands the text.
In fact, that’s what Acting Against Cancer seems to be becoming known for. There were a few blocking issues with lines given needlessly upstage, and a few of the more satirical moments of the play could have used a subtler touch. To do anything more than mention them, however, would be nitpicking and not befitting of the production’s many successes. This theater company is growing. It is succeeding with truly ambitious material, and it’s all for a wonderful cause. Reality is what one makes it, and Acting Against Cancer is certainly attempting to make this reality a better one.
The Real Inspector Hound
Friday, April 10: 8pm
Saturday, April 11: 8pm
Sunday, April 12: 2pm
Monday, April 13: 8pm (Industry Night Half-Priced Tickets)
Thursday, April 16: 8pm (Industry Night Half-Priced Tickets)
Friday, April 17: 8pm
Sunday, April 19: 2pm
$24 on regular nights, $12 on Industry night. All tickets are on sale now! Visit http://www.actingagainstcancer.com/ for more information.
Acting Against Cancer
At The Alley Theater
615 West Main Street
Louisville, Kentucky 40202
[box_light]Ben Gierhart is a local actor, playwright, and director who has worked with several companies in town including The Bard’s Town, Pandora Productions, Savage Rose, and Centerstage. Ben serves on the board and in the acting ensemble for The Bard’s Town Theatre, and he is also a founding member of the Derby City Playwrights, a collective dedicated to creating new and exciting plays in Louisville.[/box_light]