Directed by Ronan Marra
At Signal Ensemble Theatre
Stoppard’s whodunit parody full of laughs
Signal Ensemble Theatre’s spiffy new theatre (at 1802 W. Berenice in the old Breadline Theatre building) opens with a well acted, funny early (1968) Tom Stoppard farce – The Real Inspector Hound. This 75 minute one act is a hoot! It pokes fun at theatre critics, stage mysteries such as Mousetrap, and it is a lesson in absurdism satire.
We meet two theatre critics Birdboot (Jon Steinhagen) and Moon (Philip Winston) as they are reviewing an Agatha Christe-style melodrama whodunit. Playwright Stoppard infuses this short work with several levels of deception so that audiences are never sure where the mystery elements and reality are. This is clever use of parody, satire, absurdism and reality. The laughs keep coming as the deceptions unfold and the theatre critic’s jargon and cliches abound. The play-within-a-play is neatly packaged in director Ronan Marra’s intense production.
Paralleling Steinhagen and Winston’s neurotic reviewers are the play’s characters led by the funny antics of Mary O’ Dowd as Mrs. Drudge, the manor’s house keeper and mystery narrator. O’ Dowd is a treasure. The corny melodrama is deliciously over played for satirical effect. Once the line between the world of the play and the reviewers world collide, the blurred line of deception deeps. The reviewers become part of the play as they easily integrate the dialogue and the eccentricities of the play. The complex deception deeps and the laughs continue. Dare I say more before I spoil the mystery.
The Real Inspector Hound is a smartly intelligent work that is both profound and nicely silly, both fulled with expert comics and deftly melodramatic performances. Kudos to the entire cast for taking us on a journey into the absurd world of Tom Stoppard. This mystery is worth unraveling. Signal Ensemble Theatre’s space is comfortable, modern and clean.
At Signal Ensemble Theatre, 1802 W. Berenice, Chicago, IL, 773-347-1350, tickets $20, $15 industry/students/seniors, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 75 minutes without intermission.