BWW Review: THE REAL INSPECTOR HOUND Rings Down the Curtain on Bad Habit Productions
The Real Inspector Hound
Written by Tom Stoppard, Directed by Dawn M. Simmons; Assistant Director, Lisa Burdick; Stage Manager, Michaela Brown; Assistant Stage Manager, Joe Fanning; Dialect Coach, Steven L. Emanuelson; Costume Designer, Heather Oshinsky; Properties Designer, Zachary Hall; Lighting Designer, PJ Strachman; Sound Designer, Darby Smotherman; Scenic Designer, Shelley Barish; Technical Director, Ben Lieberson
Performances through April 2 by Bad Habit Productions at Boston Center for the Arts, Calderwood Pavilion, Deane Hall, 527 Tremont Street, Boston, MA; Box Office 617-933-8600 or www.badhabitproductions.org
Bad Habit Productions is about to drop the final curtain after ten years of delivering award-winning theater, but they are not taking the easy way out. I mean, no one could argue that doing a Tom Stoppard play is child's play, even if the play in question is one of his very early works. Written in 1968, The Real Inspector Hound seems like a straightforward comedy whodunnit, play-within-a-play, set in a remote mansion, that opens with a dead body already lying prone on the drawing room floor. However, even in this genre, Stoppard finds ways to be clever, inventive, and, at times confounding. Director Dawn M. Simmons and an ensemble of eight actors make sense of it all, even as they squeeze every bit of theatrical nonsense from this old chestnut.
Bad Habit veterans Bob Mussett, Catherine Lee Christie, and Jade Guerra, are joined by five actors making their BHP debuts. Alas, it is unfortunate that the likes of Damon Singletary, Michael Underhill, Mara Elissa Palma, Robin Javonne Smith, and Brandon Milardo waited for the company's swan song to join the chorus, but they are valiant in their efforts, nonetheless. What Stoppard's play requires is a troupe that plays well together (they do) and looks like they're taking their roles seriously, despite their characters saying and doing ridiculous things.
The conceit is that Moon (Mussett), a fusty Brit, and Birdboot (Singletary), a self-enamored philanderer, are theatre critics watching and commenting on the other players doing their thing, but they get quite involved in their work, to say the least. Simon (Underhill) is a suave, suspicious stranger with competing interests in Cynthia (Palma), the lady of Muldoon Manor, and her good friend Felicity (Guerra). The other members of the household include Magnus (Smith), the wheelchair-bound half-brother of Cynthia's late husband Lord Muldoon, and the somewhat ditzy housekeeper, Mrs. Drudge (Christie). As the play progresses, Moon and Birdboot try to predict "whodunnit," but to no avail. When Inspector Hound (Milardo) arrives, he throws shade on Simon, but not much light on anything.
The design team provides the proper atmosphere with shadowy lighting (PJ Strachman), ominous music, offstage crashes and gunshots (sound designer Darby Smotherman), and costume designs (Heather Oshinsky) that help to define the characters. The scenic design (Shelly Barish) evokes the manor's drawing room and sets the critics off to the side in loge seats. Dialect Coach Steven L. Emanuelson assures that Stoppard's words are conveyed with the prescribed British accent, although the award for best delivery goes to Christie, with Mussett running a close second. Kudos to all for articulating the dialogue well enough to be understood, an obvious asset in any production, but not always achieved where accents are involved. The greater challenge is being able to hear all that is said, especially in the opening conversation between the critics in their box. They emulate the stage whisper one might use as an audience member in the theater, but neither my companion nor I could grasp most of what was said. With the twists and turns mapped out by Stoppard, it's important not to miss any of the verbal road signs.