Review by Donna Hoffman of Sleuth: The Carnegie Theatre
The detailed, handsome set by Ryan Howell with antique and novelty props by Adam Hambrick, Mary Clare Quinn, Maggie Perrino, and Clare Jaymes accompanied by Baroque music chosen by the sound designer, Jason Sebastian, raised my expectations of Sleuth by Anthony Shaffer at The Carnegie on opening night. This is a comfortable, country home in Wiltshire, England. Andrew Wyke (Brent Alan Burington), the owner of said home and super successful, British writer of detective novels reads pages of his manuscript with flourish playing every character and assuming every vocal requirement. Thus goes the opening of a play that has as many twists and turns as the merengue. Then the problems start.
The set for this show gives the actors so much room to roam around that the director, Greg Procaccino, literally lets his actors roam around in it. Unmotivated blocking went on for the first 20 minutes making the dialogue sound stuffy and unimportant. Speaking of stuffy, Burlington’s costume in the first Act is about three sizes too small for him. I’ll get back to the costumes by Jim Stump.
The exposition of the first 20 minutes led into 25 minutes of getting to know the relationship between Andrew Wyke and Milo Tindle (Rory Sheridan) and there wasn’t much to hang onto. The playwright put little suggestions in his dialogue about how much he loved his own work—“a masterpiece of ingenuity” and “modern crime has no imagination”—this play has loads of imagination but there is not one moment in which the characters are more than puppets on their own stage. There simply is no comradery between them. In the first act, Sheridan lacks subtlety. His character, Milo Tindle, exhibits either anger or gleefulness. That’s it.
At 45 minutes a murder plan is revealed and the two characters talk about it for 20 more minutes. It was easy mapping this play in rigid segments because it feels like it was written from a rigid outline. Sleuth won a Tony award in 1971. That was over 40 years ago. Audiences are used to a faster and more nuanced plot pace in 2015.
The best moment of the play is toward the end of Act One when Wyke has a series of statements that begin with “I hate you because…” This was the only time in the play when the lines were delivered passionately with a sense that the character knew exactly what he wanted.
Act Two opens with the most outrageous costume I’ve seen outside of a low budget high school play. Inspector Doppler’s underpinning fat suit was hysterical. All his padding was below the billowing waist which made the suit jacket huge around the shoulders and there was no attempt to hem the sleeves which hung down over the actor’s hands. Kelly Yarko’s wig design was the best thing about that costume. The unveiling of this character was anti-climactic and it’s supposed to be one of the great plot twists of the evening!
Now we come back to the roaming blocking. Inspector Doppler has a line, “May I look around, sir?” after he’s been looking around the set for the first 20 minutes of Act Two! Then, Andrew Wyke has a line that I almost applauded because it was exactly what I was thinking, “I’ve had just about enough of this farce.” The play suffers from one level of intensity. Pacing is one of the director’s jobs.
Sheridan is much better in the second act because he finds his purpose. He says something like, “Torture changes a person.” I know, Rory, I know.
The plot of Sleuth thickens to the point that it simply doesn’t move.