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The Critic & The Real Inspector Hound Provide a Rollicking Two-fer from the Shakespeare Theatre Company

Jordan Wright
January 12, 2016
Special to The Alexandria Times

(L to R) John Ahlin as Mr. Dangle, Robert Dorfman as Mr. Sneer, and Robert Stanton as Mr. Puff - Photo by Scott Suchman.

(L to R) John Ahlin as Mr. Dangle, Robert Dorfman as Mr. Sneer, and Robert Stanton as Mr. Puff in The Critic - Photo by Scott Suchman.

Director Michael Kahn presents a rollicking game of “skewer the critic” when he rolls these two irreverent comedies into one fast-paced production.  In the immortal words of Mr. Puff, “Anyone can be a critic.  All you need is a paper, a pen and a well of resentment.”  Ouch!

Sandra Struthers as Actress 1, John Catron as Actor, and Charity Jones as Actress 2 in The Critic - Photo by Scott Suchman.

Sandra Struthers as Actress 1, John Catron as Actor, and Charity Jones as Actress 2 in The Critic - Photo by Scott Suchman.

That an 18th-century British farce could pair so seamlessly with an American existentialist whodunit, might not seem so surprising a task.  But that a singular cast could take on and exquisitely conquer such disparate settings and characters proves that humor is as delectable to Britain’s upper crust as to the American playgoer – notwithstanding a mere two hundred-year span.

(L to R) Charity Jones as Signora Decollete, John Ahlin as Mr. Dangl,e and Robert Dorfman as Mr. Sneer in The Critic - Photo by Scott Suchman.

(L to R) Charity Jones as Signora Decollete, John Ahlin as Mr. Dangle and Robert Dorfman
as Mr. Sneer in The Critic - Photo by Scott Suchman.

Adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher (The Turn of the Screw, Tuesdays with Morrie and A Confederacy of Dunces), The Critic is a tale of two self-important theatre critics, who pull a fast one on their frivolous colleague, aptly named Mr. Puff (Robert Stanton), by conning him into thinking an important producer will attend the rehearsal of his new drama, “The Spanish Armada”.  The two snarks, Mr. Dangle (John Ahlin), an imperious lady’s man, and his equally conceited cohort Mr. Sneer (Robert Dorfman), devise a plan to make a fool of Mr. Puff and therefore tank his play.

Charity Jones as Actress 2 in The Critic. - Photo by Scott Suchman.

Charity Jones as Actress 2 in The Critic. - Photo by Scott Suchman.

At the rehearsal they tell Puff that the influential Mr. Sheridan tolerates neither foreign terminology nor Shakespeare.  Hobbled by these and other last minute concocted restraints, Mr. Puff complies by making ridiculously inappropriate revisions while the performance is ongoing.  Actors are flummoxed, ham-handed mishaps revealed and props misfire to the delight of the conniving critics.  Meanwhile we are treated to uproarious comedy, eye-popping costumes by Murell Horton and towering pompadours by a crew of wig builders led by Kelly Anne Johns.  Lavish period sets are courtesy of Scenic Designer James Noone.

(L to R) Robert Stanton as Moon and John Ahlin as Birdboot in The Real Inspector Hound - Photo by Scott Suchman.

(L to R) Robert Stanton as Moon and John Ahlin as Birdboot in The Real Inspector Hound - Photo by Scott Suchman.

At first glance The Real Inspector Hound appears to be a light-hearted comedy cum murder mystery replete with mishaps and misrepresentations.  But it is so much more.  Tom Stoppard’s play-within-a-play treats us to a pair of bloviated theatre critics who hash out their reviews and boast about their past successes.  “Did you see my review in neon?” asks Birdboot (John Ahlin), an over-the-hill roué whose predilection for actresses has him salivating after the play’s leading ladies.  His cohort, Moon (Robert Stanton), is more concerned with the play’s analytics and his fellow competitors.  “Élan without éclat” he insists describing a play he reviewed after which Birdboot trumps Moon by whipping out a viewfinder stocked with transparencies of his quote in all its marqueed glory.  As they sit there wallowing in their professional triumphs and chomping on chocolates, we note a body on stage half-hidden beneath the Victorian settee.  It’s been there all along, though only we seem to be aware of it.

Foregroud: Robert Stanton as Moon and Naomi Jacobson as Mrs Drudge; background: Robert Dorfman as Inspector Hound and John Catron as Simon Gascoyne in The Real Inspector Hound - Photo by Scott Suchman.

Foregroud: Robert Stanton as Moon and Naomi Jacobson as Mrs Drudge; background: Robert Dorfman as Inspector Hound and John Catron as Simon Gascoyne
in The Real Inspector Hound - Photo by Scott Suchman.

The action takes place at Muldoon Manor in the foggy marshes of Essex, England where Lady Cynthia Muldoon (Charity Jones) is entertaining her guests.  A murder has been committed in the nearby hamlet and the police are hard on the heels of the perp.  The parallel whodunit involves a dashing cad, Simon Gascoyne (John Catron); the incapacitated Major Magnus (Hugh Nees); an adorable ingénue, Felicity Cunningham (Sandra Struthers); a haunted parlor maid, Mrs. Drudge (Naomi Jacobson); and of course, the natty Inspector Hound (Robert Dorfman).

The cast of the Shakespeare Theatre Companys production of The Real Inspector Hound directed by Michael Kahn. Photo by Scott Suchman

The cast of the Shakespeare Theatre Company's production of The Real Inspector Hound directed by Michael Kahn. Photo by Scott Suchman

Could it be Magnus, “I think I’ll go and oil my guns”, or Simon, paranoid his past loves are catching up with him?  Perhaps Felicity has revenge on her pretty little mind?  The tittle-tattle of the critics becomes the backdrop to the unfolding mystery as they try to discern the killer while critiquing the play and musing on their middle-aged fantasies until the otherworldly moment when they are drawn into the reviewer’s no-fly zone…the ongoing play.

Thanks to a crack cast this two-fer is so fast-paced you’ll want to secure your bowler before entering the theatre lest it blow off in a storm of bon mots.

Highly recommended.

At the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre through February 14th at 450 7th Street, NW Washington, DC 20004.  For tickets and information call 202 547-1122 or visit Shakespeare Theatre.

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