DOUBLE TAKE: Critics get a taste of their own medicine in Curio Theatre Company’s THE REAL INSPECTOR HOUND

by Ellen Wilson Dilks
Ryan Walter as critic Birdboot in THE REAL INSPECTOR HOUND. Photo by Kyle Cassidy.

Ryan Walter as critic Birdboot in THE REAL INSPECTOR HOUND. Photo by Kyle Cassidy.

Hmm, how does a reviewer write a review of a play that skewers theatre reviewers?

West Philly’s Curio Theatre Company has chosen Tom Stoppard’s THE REAL INSPECTOR HOUND as a respite from the pressures of the holidays. Directed by Dan Hodge, Stoppard’s comedic payback is running in the company’s new lower-level second space now until December 29th.

Written early in the playwright’s career, HOUND is sort of Monty Python Meets Beckett; tons of low-brow humor coexists with some very sharply clever dialogue. Drawing from his own experiences as a theatre critic in northern England, Stoppard gives us Moon (Liam Castellan) and Birdboot (Ryan Walter), two theatre critics watching a typical English drawing room mystery—and sharing their pompous musings on the production. (Someone please smack me upside the head if I ever start spouting a lot of pseudo-intellectual drivel.) Castellan—initially unrecognizable wearing a wig for this production—is perfect as the woebegone second-string critic who dreams of the demise of his superior. Walter matches him note for note as the full-of-himself womanizer from another publication who has romanced his share of young ingénues—including the one in the production they are currently watching.

The ensemble of Curio Theatre Company’s THE REAL INSPECTOR HOUND. Photo credit: Kyle Cassidy.

The ensemble of Curio Theatre Company’s THE REAL INSPECTOR HOUND. Photo credit: Kyle Cassidy.

Said production is a riotous send-up of those pot-boiler British whodunits so popular in the 1940s, and Curio’s resident ensemble clearly has a blast playing it. Hodge puts it wonderfully in his director’s notes: “they fearlessly toe the line between camp and genuine intrigue.” Jennifer Summerfield gives a deft comedic performance as Cynthia, the Lady of the Manor, who is mourning her long-lost husband; she flits about the stage subtly chewing the scenery with her castmates, to the enjoyment of all. As the wheelchair-bound Magnus, brother-in-law to Cynthia, Joshua L. Browns brings the suitable amount of “harrumph”—and has a few surprises for us as well. Steve Carpenter, as the handsome stranger Simon Gascoyne, embodies the suave rake character that is a fixture of English drawing room pieces; with Rachel Gluck matching him note for note as Felicity, the society girl he gilts. Gluck has a ball playing the brokenhearted young beauty. Aetna Gallagher plays Mrs. Drudge, the faithful housekeeper. It’s possible she’s channeling “Mrs. Wiggins” in her portrayal—she physically embodies the character’s name perfectly—but she is slightly difficult to understand in the early going; perhaps if she slowed down a bit it would help. Rounding out this strong ensemble is CJ Keller as The Inspector. Keller is clearly fond of Basil Rathbone—he nails the bluster of the British detective.

Scenic designer Paul Kuhn has created a lovely little drawing room in the intimate thrust playing space, allowing the action to flow quite nicely as the ensemble shifts furniture as needed. Hodge is to be commended on his inventive staging, as well as the great pacing of the production. Gallagher does double duty as costume designer, and her 1940s aristocratic English ensembles are spot-on. The action is wonderfully lit by Tim Martin, including the appropriate light flickers, and Patrick Lamborn provides a wonderfully witty soundscape to add to the fun. Surely you can spare 75 minutes to give yourself a break from all the holiday rush and laugh out loud at Curio’s latest take on Stoppard. HOUND will have you howling—with laughter.

By Tom Stoppard
Directed by Dan Hodge
December 5-29, 2012
Curio Theatre Company
815 S.48th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19143

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