We Love Arts: The Real
By Patrick Pho
April 25, 2011
I am not a Theatre Critic.
I don’t have an MFA, my grades in English were that of the
C+ variety, and I don’t claim to have an extensive knowledge of theatre
That doesn’t mean I am without credibility. I have been
involved with theatre for over 10 years and in my latest reincarnation I am a
stage manager. I am also a blogger that’s been blogging before they called it blogging.
I hope that my experience behind, on, and in front of the stage lends a unique
perspective in my theatre posts for We Love DC.
It is also because I am not a critic (but kinda am) that I was able to laugh throughout MetroStage’s production of The Real Inspector Hound. From the title you might assume that the
show is a hokey whodunit- and in part it is. At its core however, the show is a
farce that shamelessly pokes fun at the profession of theatre criticism and
culminates into a collision of critics and actors that is very reminiscent of Durang’s The Actor’s
At the center of Tom Stoppard’s
one-act are two theatre critics: Birdboot (Michael Tolaydo) and Moon (Ralph Cosham).
The two sit together as they watch and review a what
is perhaps the worst mystery/thriller I have ever seen. During the show the two
compare opinions and lament about their problems outside the theatre. Moon, the
back-up critic, dreams of becoming the top banana while Birdboot
uses his status as a reviewer to get closer to the talent than his wife might
like. As the play-within-a-play trudges on, Stoppard decides to tell
the critics, “you just got Inception’d!” The critics
get pulled on stage and become a part of the show themselves.
The show seemingly offers the audience a view (albeit
tongue-in-cheek) of the life of a critic, a role Stoppard himself had and drew
upon for the show. While reviews that attempted to be more artistic and
masterful than the plays they covered is something I believe is a bygone of the
60’s (when the play was written), there are some elements of a critic’s life that
still ring true today. There is indeed a friendly relationship between fellow
critics, I always enjoy hearing what TBD’s Maura Judkis has to say about a show and I always say hi at the
many press performances I see her at.
I also got a laugh at the idea of comparing theatre critics
to quarterbacks on a football team. I wonder if WaPo’s
Gene Wang dreams of Michael Lee meeting an unfortunate demise so he can become
the main beat reporter for the Washington Wizards. It only goes to show that
competition can be found on every level of life.
The utter horridness of the murder/mystery play
within-a-play adds to the hilarity when the Birdboot
and Moon wax poetic about the show’s finer qualities. It makes you wonder if
the critics need to overcompensate for a lack of analysis- or perhaps they need
to feel fancy in order to feed their growing egos. The mystery is so contrived
with drawn-out ominous pauses, phone conversations that force feed you the
premise, and acting that makes the actors look stiffer than the statue that is
Birdboot wined and dined the actress in the
role of Felicity (Kimberly Gilbert), and promises to make her a star through
his review. Through her performance however, the audience knows she is less
talented than Birdboot says. His interests shift
during the show to the voluptuous actress playing Lady Muldoon (Emily Tonwley). The rest of the actors on display are stock
characters: Simon (Doug Krehbel) is a handsome yet
suspicious Dexter-like character, Inspector Hound (David Elias) dons a Sherlock
Holmes-like outfit, and Mrs. Drudge (Catherine Flye),
piles on the cockney as the maid and housekeeper.
Luckily with most farces, a deep analysis of the piece
isn’t needed to tell you that it is an entertaining romp that will make both critics
and regular patrons laugh. The show is more about the dialog than slapstick but
it has that “meta” quality that makes it work. This one will have a special
place in my heart as a constant reminder to never compare any show to the human
Well unless it really does.
Humor lit by
By Barbara Mackay
April 25, 2011
Tom Stoppard wrote a witty play when he wrote "The Real Inspector
Hound" is like saying that there are various colors in nature. It's an understatement of mammoth
proportions. In fact, Stoppard's wit in "The
Real Inspector Hound" comes on so quickly and completely, the farce
immediately tumbles into nonstop, high-octane entertainment. And right under
the chaos, a vibrant intelligence is at work.
"The Real Inspector Hound," at MetroStage, is a play within a play. In its first scene, we
meet two critics, Birdboot (Michael Tolaydo) and Moon (Ralph Cosham).
They are watching a show, criticizing a particularly bad whodunit of the sort
Agatha Christie might write, where all the guests at Muldoon Manor are trapped
with no way out. The radio keeps announcing that a murderer is on the loose.
In addition to his hilarious send-up of such plays, Stoppard's creation of Moon and Birdboot
is brilliant. He portrays both critics as pretentious in their own ways. The
pompous Moon lapses into French and Latin and uses 25-cent words whenever he
can. Birdboot is a womanizer and is smitten by one of
the actresses in the cast but refuses to admit his marital infidelity.
In the second act of "Hound," Stoppard gets more
analytical about the difference between onstage and offstage reality and where
the two collide. When the telephone onstage rings incessantly, Birdboot answers it only to find that it is his wife. He is
then drawn into the play, taking the place of one of the characters. Moon also
becomes part of the play, again destroying the illusion of the fourth wall
between actors and audience.
MetroStage has assembled a talented cast to
make this "Hound" successful. Cosham and Tolaydo are particularly good as Moon and Birdboot, respectively. Catherine Flye
gives a delightfully dry interpretation of the humorless housekeeper, Mrs.
Drudge. Emily Townley and Kimberly Gilbert are
excellent as Cynthia and Felicity, both vying for the same man.
Daniel Pinha creates an effective
set for the play within a play. Moon and Birdboot sit
on red upholstered theater seats upstage on a raised platform. Behind them is a
screen showing other theatergoers observing the play, which is performed
Everything in "The Real Inspector Hound" is
exaggerated and director John Vreeke has capitalized
on that. He plays up the silliness of the drama that Moon and Birdboot are reviewing by emphasizing its melodramatic
nature, having the action stop when regular death threats are made. The actors
freeze, classical music plays.
Lighting designer Brian Allard captures the actors in those
moments, reinforcing the staccato nature of old-fashioned playwriting and
helping demonstrate Stoppard's extraordinary ability
to satirize human nature, society, theater and life itself.
Tom Stoppard’s ‘The Real Inspector Hound’ at MetroStage
By Celia Wren
April 26, 2011
Look at the bone-weary demeanor of the bow-tied scribbler
Moon — slumped in a maroon chair, gripping a playbill, looking out with
despairing resignation at a tidy drawing-room stage set. Surely no job on earth
is as arduous, lonely and downright spiritually draining as that of theater
Or so you might think, watching actor
Ralph Cosham’s consummate portrait of Moon, a
play-reviewer character in the enjoyable version of “The Real Inspector Hound”
now at MetroStage. Director John Vreeke’s
adroitly paced staging deftly brandishes the wit of this 1968 Tom Stoppard
one-act, a brilliant parody of country-house detective stories and the
conflict-fraught, egoism-inflating business of theater criticism. Vreeke’s production features a number of zesty
performances, and most of the cast appears to be having a blast — but it’s Cosham’s brooding Moon who seems to live most fully in Stoppard’s delectably language-drunk, hall-of-mirrors
A critic who’s more than a little
obsessed with his own second-string status, Moon sits next to a fellow
reviewer, the philandering Birdboot (Michael Tolaydo), at a whodunit that’s a schlocky
knockoff of Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap.” After delivering some
egregiously overinflated pronouncements on this piece
of tripe (“I think we are entitled to ask — and here one is irresistibly
reminded of Voltaire’s cry, ‘Voila’ — I think we are entitled to ask, Where is God?” Moon muses at one point), the critics find
themselves tugged into the world of the fog-shrouded Muldoon Manor, where a
madman is reportedly on the loose.
Looking aptly frumpy in a checked jacket, mismatched
trousers and carnival-colored tie, Tolaydo’s Birdboot oozes smarmy self-importance, and he brings the
right solipsistic, suspicious, competitive air to his conversations with Moon.
In the play-within-the-play, Catherine Flye displays
superb comic timing and a wicked command of baleful expressions as the
saturnine Muldoon Manor housekeeper, Mrs. Drudge.
David Elias has a funny turn as Inspector Hound, clad,
naturally enough, in Sherlock Holmes-style deerstalker and Inverness
cape (Ivania Stack designed the costumes), while Kimberly Gilbert and Emily Townley
ham it up as Manor denizens Felicity Cunningham and Lady Cynthia Muldoon.
Manically racing a wheelchair around designer Daniel Pinha’s
succinct aristocratic-parlor set, a blanket-swaddled John Dow plays Major
Magnus, who has turned up mysteriously at the Manor.
In a fun touch, whenever one of the characters utters one
of the script’s periodic ultra-ominous remarks (e.g., “I think I’ll go and oil
my gun”), lighting designer Brian S. Allard amps up a footlight or two, for a
luridly melodramatic effect. Sound designer Steve Baena
complements these moments with sinister cadences from screechy violins.
“The Real Inspector Hound” notably reunites director Vreeke with Cosham, Dow and Tolaydo, who appeared in Vreeke’s
splendid MetroStage production of French playwright
Gerald Sibleyras’ “Heroes” (translated and adapted by
Stoppard) in 2009. Entertaining as it is, the current offering doesn’t have the
buoyancy and brio of that earlier staging — you get the sense that Cosham and Tolaydo, at least, are
less excited by this Stoppard staple than they were when tackling “Heroes,” a
work that’s less well known in the Anglophone world.
Fortunately, there is such a thing as professionalism,
a force that seems to have produced Cosham’s
woebegone but dutiful Moon. When Sisyphus wearies of rolling his boulder up a
Hadean hill, this Moon will sigh, uncap his pen and take notes on yet another
The Real Inspector
By Jayne Blanchard
April 27, 2011
Ever had the hankering to stop being a seat warmer and jump
up onstage to join the action? Careening out of your comfort zone and
inadvertently breaking the fourth wall are two of the themes in Tom Stoppard’s affable send-up of pat murder mysteries and
theater critic pretensions, The Real
MetroStage has an affinity for Mr. Stoppard’s plays, having produced a luminous production of
the wistful Heroes in 2009 that was
directed by John Vreeke, who dexterously handles the
farcical trappings and energetic banter in Hound.
The actors from Heroes return for
this latest venture into Stoppardian territory—Ralph Cosham, John Dow and Michael Tolaydo—and
they are joined by local stage favorites Catherine Flye,
Kimberly Gilbert and Emily Townley.
Written in the 60s and
affectionately recalling Mr. Stoppard’s stint as a
pseudonymous drama critic early in his career, The Real Inspector Hound is sheer entertainment and not emblematic
of the playwright’s many works that combine intellectual depth and dazzling
Hound’s play-within-a-play conceit takes
place in a British theater, where a groaner of a whodunit in the mold of Agatha
Christie’s The Mousetrap lumbers
along, a murder mystery set in the fog-shrouded environ of Muldoon Manor. The
hilariously dour housekeeper Mrs. Drudge (Miss Flye)
is called upon to rattle off miles of exposition, including answering the phone
with “the drawing room of Lady Muldoon’s country residence one morning in early
spring” and also explains that roads lead to the manor but “mysteriously” do
not go in the opposite direction.
Beyond the footlights, two theater critics Moon (Mr. Cosham) and Birdboot (Mr. Tolaydo) sit in their velvet seats and comment on what’s
occurring onstage, as well as other topics that arise during the evening. Birdboot is a jovial cheerleader who speaks in sound bites
and blurbs and cranks out his reviews on the spot–ever-mindful of how they
would look on a marquee or in a newspaper ad.
With his shock of messy red hair and loud tie, Birdboot is an unabashed extrovert with a connoisseur’s eye
for female beauty. All the while painting himself as the pinnacle of integrity,
he nonetheless enjoys the company of comely actresses, most recently Felicity
(a comically wide-eyed Miss Gilbert), the play’s ingénue, whom he describes as
“a toiler in the vineyard of greasepaint.”
Moon is like his name, a broody chap with a chip on his
shoulder as big as his droopy bow-tie. Lamenting his lot as a second-string
reviewer—a constant refrain in the play is the question “Where’s Higgs?” a
reference to the star critic—Moon sinks into glumness as the whodunit unfolds lumpily under his dolorous gaze. His morose mien is belied
by increasingly pompous critiques of the play, at one point saying it possesses
a certain “je suis
ergo sum” and contains elements of “Kafka, Sartre, Shakespeare, Samuel Beckett,
Dante, Dorothy L. Sayers and Van Gogh.”
All journalistic impartiality goes out the window when Birdboot becomes smitten with the glamorous romantic lead
Cynthia (a fabulously over-the-top Miss Townley) and,
unable to restrain himself, joins the play and assumes
the role of the two-timing playboy Simon Gascoyne.
Not to be outdone, Moon leaps into the footlights, taking on the dream part of
the analytical detective Inspector Hound. The real Simon (Doug Krehbel) and Inspector Hound (David Elias) slip into the
critic’s seats, offering pithy assessments of what is now a brazen farce.
Hound wittily lampoons the conventions
of murder mysteries where not a whit of ambiguity remains after the final
curtain. That Moon and Birdboot would lavish so much
attention and verbiage on this theatrical piffle adds to the play’s sense of
absurdity. It also inadvertently makes you wonder why so much talent and care
at MetroStage is involved in something equally
slight. So Hound is a
play-within-a-play that parodies insubstantial fare with 80 minutes of trifle.
You’re probably not supposed to think that hard, instead
get carried away by the pleasure of the performances, especially Miss Flye’s deadpan double-takes and deliciously demented spins
on the hackneyed dialogue. Mr. Cosham’s hound-dog
demeanor and high-falutin’ expressions of inferiority
perfectly embody Birdboot’s splintered spirit and Mr.
Dow has his moments as the speed-racing Magnus, a wheelchair-bound guest at
You could never call Hound
purebred Stoppard, but it is one of his mongrel bits of fun.
Stoppard Comedy Sends
Up Mysteries & Critics
By Brad Hathaway
Thursday, April 28,
The life of a theater critic can sometimes be a strange
thing as evidenced by this Saturday when I attended two shows to review. One
was a musical about two young men writing a musical about two young men writing
a musical. The other one found me watching a show and taking notes for a review
of a show about theater critics watching a show and taking notes for a review.
The musical was "[Title of Show]" currently playing at the Little
Theatre of Alexandria. The other was "The Real Inspector Hound,"
which opened at MetroStage, on North Royal Street.
MetroStage has a superb cast for its highly
enjoyable send up of both the English whodunit mysteries, like the ones Agatha
Christie is so famous for writing, and of the pretensions of certain theater
critics. As one of the later, of course, I find the effort to ridicule critics
must be directed toward some of my colleagues — they couldn't be referring to
me. (Could they?)
"The Real Inspector Hound" is a one-act play
written in the early 1960s by Tom Stoppard, the master wordsmith who gave us
"Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead," "Arcadia,"
"The Coast of Utopia" and "The Invention of Love" as well
as the screenplay for "Shakespeare in Love" for which he won the
Oscar for Best Screenplay. He wrote this one in the early 1960s, before any of
the above had been seen on stages here or in Britain.
Theater lovers frequently look forward to a production of a
Tom Stoppard play with great anticipation. This one was even more eagerly
awaited because of its casting and its director, John Vreeke.
It was Vreeke who suggested doing the play at MetroStage in order to have the chance to work again with
three actors with whom he'd staged the little-known play "Heroes" in
2009, Michael Tolaydo, Ralph Cosham
and John Dow. For that play at MetroStage they earned
the Canadian Embassy Award for Outstanding Ensemble in a Play presented by the
Helen Hayes Awards.
This is no sequel to "Heroes" however. Where that
gentle human drama touched a sentimental nerve with its portrait of veterans at
the end of life, "The Real Inspector Hound" is a no-holds barred send
up, reaching for every joke the outlandish premise allows. Also, Tolaydo, Cosham and Dow aren't
alone in the company. They are joined by five colleagues who are familiar to
local theater-goers and one newcomer who plays the corpse in the
Tolaydo is unabashedly funny as one of two
second-string theater critics assigned to cover an equally second-string
mystery play while Cosham is more subtle but no less
funny. The tone of the piece is evident even before the house lights go down as
Cosham takes one of two theater seats located at the
back of the set and stares out at the stage and the real audience beyond. Soon,
Tolaydo enters the auditorium scampering up and down
the aisles in search of his seat. Cosham calls him
over to take the seat next to him and they exchange pleasantries as they await
the beginning of the mystery, a typical whodunit set in a manor in the middle
of the marshes of middle England.
Just as you might expect, the room has a radio (for news flashes of a murderer
on the loose) a telephone on a stand (where, of course, in the course of the
play it is announced that the wires have been cut) and a corpse.
While Catherine Flye, as the
maid, Emily Townley, as the lady of the manor, John
Dow, who appears as her wheelchair-bound brother, Kimberly Gilbert as her
friend, Doug Krehbel as a new gentleman in the
neighborhood and David Elias as the character for whom the play is titled,
perform the mystery "The Real Inspector Hound," the two critics at
the back of the stage pay attention more or less, take a few notes for their
reviews and continue their conversation in soto-voice
snippets. (Of course, no real critic would talk during a performance! But we
must allow Stoppard this slight deviation from reality in pursuit of humor and
The mystery turns out to be a three-act play, so there are
opportunities for even further conversation between the two critics as the
audience discovers details of their private lives and careers that seem to tie
in to the mystery on the stage. Soon, the connection is unmistakable and the
lines between on-stage fiction and off-stage reality blur beyond control, a
situation that is rife with opportunities for a good laugh and this cast takes
full advantage of every one.
Daniel Pinha designed a very
workable set with the on-stage representation of a manor house which recalls
many a small theater production of an Agatha Christie play but with a picture
of a full audience sometimes projected on the screen behind Cosham
and Tolaydo's theater seats. Ivania
Stack, Brian S. Allard and Steve Baena continue that
recreation with a light touch in their costume, light and sound designs. Baena's snippets of classical music to punctuate the mystery's
plot points are particularly fun.
In his role of a theater critic, Cosham
has a line that pronounces the mystery "a good clean show without a trace
of smut." My review gives it much more credit than that. It is a
delightful show with marvelous performances and if you've seen a few English
manor mysteries you'll enjoy it all the more.
A murder mystery with
absurd tendencies at MetroStage
By Jordan Wright
Friday, April 29,
Each and every MetroStage
production demands eager anticipation. In most cases, playgoers can expect a
musical. And whether a frothy delight or a serious biography, it never fails to
“Every so often we throw in a mystery,” says artistic
director Carolyn Griffin.
And this one’s a doozy. Tom Stoppard’s absurdist play within a play, “The Real
Inspector Hound,” is a quirky, kitschy parody of the stereotypical English
parlor mystery. If you want it played straight, stick with Agatha
The plot begins at a theatre where
two critics hash out reviews and boast about their past successes. “Did you see
my review in neon?” asks Birdboot, an over-the-hill
roué whose affinity for ingénues has him salivating after the play’s leading
His cohort, the pompous Moon, “a fellow toiler in the
greasepaint,” is more concerned with the play’s analytics and his fellow
competitors. “Elan without éclat” he suggests
describing a play he reviewed. Birdboot trumps the
prissy Moon by whipping out examples of his marquee quote made famous.
But, hold on, there is a dead body onstage. It’s been there
all along though only the audience is aware of it. A quick flip through the
playbill reveals that four actors are scheduled to “perform” this role on an
alternating basis with only one corpse per performance. It must be exhausting
to play dead. It’s almost unimaginable
to conceive of lying stark still for the length of the play, not to mention
without chuckling, throat clearing or reacting to the hilarious exchanges of
your fellow cast members as they whirl madly past you.
A quick check every now and again confirmed that the
“corpse” did not move an inch, even when accidentally run over by Major Magnus
Muldoon making his wheelchair entrance. Touché to stoicism!
The action is centered at Muldoon Manor in the foggy
marshes of Essex, England, where Lady Cynthia, played
magnetically by the voluptuous Emily Townley, is
entertaining her eccentric guests. A murder has been committed in the nearby
hamlet and the local gendarmes are hard on the heels of the perpetrator. The
whodunit involves a dashing cad, Simon Gascoyne; the
eccentric, crippled brother-in-law, Muldoon; the adorably clingy and innocent
Felicity Cunningham; the haunted parlor maid Mrs. Drudge and of course the
natty Inspector Hound.
Could it be Muldoon (“I think I’ll go and oil my guns”)? Or
Simon, afraid his past loves are catching up with
him? Perhaps Felicity has revenge on her
pretty little mind? The audience has mere seconds to deduce the answer when the
characters occasionally go into melodramatic freeze-frame mode.
The “tittle tattle” of the
critics becomes the backdrop to the unfolding mystery as they try to discern
the killer while critiquing the play and musing on their middle-aged fantasies
… until the otherworldly moment when they are drawn into the plot.
This production is fast-paced, so pull your bowler down
firmly before entering the theatre lest it blow off in a storm of witticisms.
With a crack cast and a dizzying plot, it’s another winner for MetroStage.