After the intense drama of Sam Shepard's "A Lie of the Mind," M&D Productions is going for something a good deal lighter with "The Real Inspector Hound," Tom Stoppard's parody of the mystery genre, which opened Thursday, Aug. 9, at Your Theatre in North Conway, N.H. and is playing Thursday through Saturday for the next three weeks.
M&D is going from its longest show — at two hours and 45 minutes — to its shortest at 65 minutes. "The Real Inspector Hound" is like an after dinner mint after the heavy meal that was "A Lie of the Mind."
In that short running time, Stoppard packs a lot in as he explores the idea of a play within a play and breaking the fourth wall. This is a show that can be viewed on two levels. It can be enjoyed simply as a madcap and absurdist comedy or as a satire that blurs the line between fiction and reality and dissects the very role of theater itself in a way that can lead to some meaty discussion after the show.
But I don't want to become too pretentious or ponderous in my reading of the show lest I become like the self-aggrandizing critics of Moon (Ken Martin) and Birdboot (Kevin O'Neil), who are tasked to review a murder mystery.
Moon and Birdboot can barely be bothered to watch the show as they are too busy talking about themselves and pontificating prose for their reviews that has nothing to do with the actual content of the show. Moon is constantly muttering about his station as a second-string critic, and Birdboot is distracted by romantic longings for the actresses on stage. About half through the show they actually take part in the very performance they're supposed to be reviewing.
The play within the play is a standard whodunit writ large with broad comedic flourishes. A madman is on the loose near the Manor Muldoon where the widowed Lady Muldoon (Karen Kustafson) and her guests Major Magnus Muldoon (Andrew Brosnan) and Felicity Cunningham (Janette Kondrat) are visited by Simon Gascoyne (Eric Jordan), who has had an affair with both women. The inept Inspector Hound (Bill Knolla) arrives just in time to provide no help at all.
Jane Duggan plays a maid who humorously speaks entirely in exposition or cryptic, foreboding monologues. Duggan facial expressions and overly dramatic line readings provide many of the shows biggest laughs.
The show's funniest scene involves Duggan serving tea in a maddeningly slow and precise manner, which increasingly infuriates Kondrat's Felicity. Kondrat does comic wonders with a fan that she is constantly folding and unfolding.
Everyone in the play within the play performs their parts in a gloriously campy fashion. Jordan spends most the production wide eyed and bewildered. Kustafson squeezes every bit of overwrought melodrama out of her intentionally cliche dialogue. Brosnan speaks in a Scottish brogue and rocks a fake moustache.
Martin, who also designed the impressive set, and O'Neil's performances are less broad, but no less funny as they perfectly capture the essence of an arrogant critic. Not that I speak from experience or anything.
Comedy is just as difficult if not more so than drama, but director Richard Russo keeps the pace appropriately fast and the humor well timed. Russo doesn't let the comic energy run completely out of control, but he also gives his actors the freedom to go big and goofy. It is not a spoiler to say there are several deaths, but one actor's extended death scene is particularly laugh-out-loud funny.
The sound design by Russo and Martin cleverly uses bits of Henry Mancini's "Pink Panther" theme, Bernard Hermann's "Psycho" theme, Beethoven's "Fifth Symphony" and other songs.
"The Real Inspector Hound" is quick, breezy, fun theater that, while not exactly profound, does reward an attentive audience.
For more information or tickets call the box office at 662-7591.