By Bob Anthony

Sunday, April 24, 2011

 

It is a chore for a theater critic to review MetroStage's "THE REAL INSPECTOR HOUND" (To 5/29) since playwright Tom Stoppard comes down heavily on members of the press.   How dare he say that critics sleep around with young ingenues; fall asleep during a show; and intellectualize watching simple-plotted plays!  Well the truth is...some do!!!  So in this riotous play...somewhat loosely based on "The Mousetrap"...we find critics Michael Tolaydo and Ralph Cosham just following this unscrupulous pattern.   Add to this the falsely made-up John Dow and we get the return of that wonderful comic trio to the MetroStage.  But Catherine Flye almost steals the show from them with her acerbic Brit maid who likes to tell tall tales about the environment and other characters' behavior once the "inspector hound" makes his appearance coming through the swamp to this isolated mansion.  The inspector is succinctly played by David Elias.  Emily Townley and Kimberly Gilbert finely played the lovely sought after ladies.  Handsome lady-killer (?) Doug Krehbel seems the most likely described suspect in this murder mystery.  The fun of the show is the fact that the critics get right into the scene to try to solve the mystery of the dead man who, before this, is not totally considered as to "who he is" by the other players in this comedy.  The dead man is alternately played by Bryant Centofanti, Jim Epstein, Larry Levinson and Devin Shadid.  Director John Vreeke nicely highlights the mysterious elements of this comedy along with the help of lighting designer Brian S. Allard. This is a great family show particularly since Tom Stoppard is such a wordsmith that he doesn't resort to vulgarisms typically found in current drama.

 

 



 

We Love Arts: The Real Inspector Hound

 

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 history.

 

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 Nightmare.

 

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 Derek Jeter.

 

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 condition.

 

Well unless it really does.

 

 



 

Humor lit by intelligence

 

By Barbara Mackay

April 25, 2011

 

"Saying that 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 downstage.

 

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.

 

 



 

Theater review:

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 critic.

 

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 world.

 

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 play.

 

 



 

The Real Inspector Hound

 

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 Inspector Hound.

 

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 wordplay.

 

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. Got that?

 

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 Muldoon Manor.

 

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, 2011   

 

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 mystery-with-the-play.

 

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 drama.)

 

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, 2011

 

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 thrill. 

 

“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 Christie. 

 

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 ladies.

 

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.