THE REAL INSPECTOR HOUND
Temporary Theatre Company
at Mayfair United Methodist Church
at Stage Left Theatre
The only thing worse than reviewing an Agatha Christie-type whodunit is reviewing a play about two critics sent to review an Agatha Christie-type whodunit. In The Real Inspector Hound, critics Moon and Birdboot have the advantage of playwright Tom Stoppard's lovely language, which shapes their fatuous, long-winded insights about the travesty unfolding on the stage. Stoppard gleefully lampoons the interminable eternal English murder mystery, along with the critics who perpetuate it with their sophistry and empty praise. The Real Inspector Hound should be a wickedly funny portrait of how theater, actors, and critics feed off one another. As a critic, I should've walked away blushing. As it was I only squirmed. Stoppard is brilliant, but the Temporary Theatre's production is as dull as they come.
Unfortunately the play within a play that makes up the bulk of The Real Inspector Hound does its job too well: it really is interminable. Meant to be played as a spoof, it demands an understanding of the genre, some very precise physical comedy, and over-the-edge theatrics based on timeworn stereotypes. Director Suzanne E. Hannon seems to shy away from the risks all this involves, and we're left with nothing but the stereotypes, which are not particularly funny in and of themselves.
The handsome, mysterious stranger is played by Jim Yeater with nothing of swagger, smarm, or charm. Valerie Shull's performance is too genuinely vapid to effectively satirize the ingenue. Jay Geller's inspector is closer to a modest burlesque of Columbo with a capricious English accent than to an outrageous Hercule Poirot. Celeste Mrakovich seems to be the only member of the cast who understands what's required to keep a spoof on its feet. As the glamorous Lady Muldoon, she makes her entrances as though music were swelling behind her. Trailing a long white scarf, in true melodramatic fashion she has her elegant hysterics. Though her performance is wonderfully overplayed, on its own it doesn't give the spoof enough energy to have compelled the two critics (Tim Philbin and Kim Swinton) onstage and into the play. These are critics of a very mundane stripe if they're actually investing in any of this. Of course in the end that's Stoppard's point: if you endorse mediocrity long enough it will engulf you. I don't imagine, though, that he meant the lesson to be so tedious.
Midemax Players claim that their parody Upset Boulevard was inspired by the movie Sunset Boulevard, but it seemed to me inspiration had little to do with it. It's more of a lukewarm rehash. Since the script is quoted practically verbatim, someone connected with the production must have seen the movie; so why does Dena Hirschberg play the Gloria Swanson role in a mock turtleneck, very little makeup, and what appears to be a bath towel wrapped around her head? The production does not remain true to the movie's spirit, nor does it offer any satire. Moreover Sunset Boulevard is a poor choice for satire; its central character, Norma Desmond, is an aging self-parody to begin with. All Upset Boulevard manages to do is strip away the tragedy of a woman in her position and offer a spectacularly watered-down version of the movie, with costumes straight from the closet of somebody's big sister out in the suburbs. With the presumption to treat a great line like "I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. De Mille," as a throwaway, this production is remarkable only in its audacity.