Twenty-five years after its premiere, Anthony Shaffer's homage to (and critique of) the genteel British whodunits of the 1930s still has the ability to snare viewers unfamiliar with its intricate games of deception and disguise. And even for those who know its secrets, this crafty mix of thriller and comedy of manners remains a sturdy vehicle for actors suited to its bitingly epigrammatic style. It has such an actor in the masterful Stratford Festival star Nicholas Pennell--droll, debonair, and suitably serpentine as the scheming mystery novelist Andrew Wyke, bent on revenge for his wife's adultery. Pennell's pitch-perfect vocal inflections and seemingly infinite subtleties of facial expression perfectly convey his character's exquisite if morbid explorations of psychological sadomasochism. Pennell's rarefaction is well matched by the strongly felt performance of David New as Wyke's handsome young opponent in love and murder. The script's puzzlements are effectively mirrored in Jeff Bauer's semiabstract set, an M.C. Escher-like network of stairways and tiles that turn in on each other.
Though the play succumbs to a preachy, gimmicky denouement, rather perfunctorily staged by director Gordon Reinhart, it's great fun for the first act and most of the second. And no chance to see a master technician like Pennell should be missed.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Matthew Gilson.