The Real Inspector Hound
nytheatre.com review by Loren Noveck
July 13, 2005
The Real Inspector Hound can be a tricky thing to review—since one of its main subjects is the faddishness, clichés, infighting, and petty jealousies of theatre reviewing. Nominally a spoof of the British country-house murder mystery, the play’s real action takes place in the “audience,” where critics Moon and Birdboot critique the onstage play, snipe at each other, and philosophize about the place of critics in the universe. Birdboot’s critiques of the women in the play are thoroughly colored by his habit of pursuing affairs with young actresses; Moon, the second-string critic, is consumed by his envy of the first-string critic, Higgs. Both spout reams of critical jargon, drafting their reviews on the fly from their box seats—and so the reviewer trying to review them necessarily becomes a little self-conscious about neither mimicking their clichés nor replicating their insights, such as they are.
The doubling of realities gets even more complex toward the end of the play, as the critics get drawn into the onstage action, and the onstage characters begin to stand in for the critics—with widely diverging opinions from the professionals.
The mission of the producing company adds another level of doubled reality. Performers Access Studio was established to address the needs of actors with disabilities, and to give disabled performers the chance to portray roles not “written as disabled.” The Real Inspector Hound is an interesting choice for them, as one of the characters is in fact written as disabled—he’s in a wheelchair. However, like everyone else in the play, he may not be what he seems. So the production encompasses the paradox of a character written with a visible disability, who may or may not be played by an actor with that disability—or with a different, less visible one. Then, other roles, not written with visible disabilities, are played by actors whose disabilities may or may not be visible. It’s a level of interplay between the theatrical and the real that I imagine Stoppard himself would relish.
Director Ron Jones lets his actors ham it up, clearly encouraging them to relish the language, the hokiness of the play-within-the-play, and the parody of melodramatic conventions—the madman on the loose in the deserted moors, the love triangle, the glamorous widow. Jones also stages sight gags and physical comedy well, adding to the giggles.
The cast is solid throughout, all showing excellent comic timing. There are a few standouts. Laurel Sanborn as Mrs. Drudge, the housekeeper and often the voice of exposition, does a terrific, morosely funny deadpan. Erin Clancy as Cynthia Muldoon, the widowed lady of the country house in question, is a charming physical comedian, with probably the evening’s best sight gag to her credit. Frank Senger as Birdboot combines wounded dignity with lechery, while still remaining likeable.
I’m a big Tom Stoppard fan, and I welcomed the chance to see this rarely revived early play of his (first produced in New York in 1972). This production is thoroughly enjoyable, showing off both the script’s essential silliness, and its thought-provoking questions about the nature of theatre, criticism, and reality.