I would imagine that a mystery would be one of the more difficult plays to stage effectively as it requires a slight of hand that needs to be sustained for an entire performance, but director Greg Procaccino’s production of Anthony Shaffer’s Sleuth at The Carnegie seems to defy that hypothesis as it feels effortless and, dare I say it, ebullient? It doesn’t adhere to the tried and true constructs of other thrillers, so perhaps that’s why over forty-five years since its Broadway premiere it remains a classic, in a class all its own.
Anthony Shaffer’s Sleuth opened on Broadway in the fall of 1970, won the Tony Award for “Best Play,” and ran for three years; it was adapted into a successful 1972 film starring Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine, and then a rather bumbling 2007 Harold Pinter-scripted remake. The story unfolds at Andrew Wyke’s country home in Wiltshire, where he has invited his wife’s paramour, Milo Tindle, for a visit. Andrew appears to approve of his wife cuckolding him and planning to run off with Milo, and he proposes to the young man a scheme involving some valuable jewelry to help the two start their new life together. Can Andrew be trusted? Is Milo really as naive as he seems? Is it all a game, and if so, whose game is it? There’s no way I’m going to spoil any of that for you, but trust me – it’s worth seeing.
Brent Alan Burington plays Andrew looking rather scholarly but behaving with mischievous glee. Mr. Burington always seems to be a few paces ahead of Rory Sheridan as Milo, and that’s as it should be for a time. Mr. Sheridan appears so gangly and simple, his cockney accent light enough to be understood but common enough to separate him from Mr. Burlington in class and stature. I felt so sorry for Mr. Sheridan at first, and then my allegiance changed to Mr. Burington in the second act! I’d seen the 1972 film, but I didn’t remember all of the twists and turns; I was genuinely surprised and delighted at the denouement, as were the audience members around me. Mr. Burington and Mr. Sheridan have fine chemistry, bouncing their lines over the net and returning each other’s serves swiftly and with force.
The third star of Sleuth is the grand set designed by Ryan Howell complete with a staircase, large stained glass windows, bookshelves, a hidden safe, a creepy, laughing sailor mannequin… It’s all there and functional. So many props are thrown about that I would hate to be the person responsible for cleaning it all up. If there is one flaw it is that the depth of the set and placement of the furniture (including a large trunk that figures in the first act) block some of the action for the first few rows of the orchestra, so I would avoid trying to be seated too close. The environment at The Carnegie is so intimate anyway that I’m sure even the back of the orchestra or mezzanine would work for this show as there is so much to see and take in.
There’s something about loud gunshots that shock me into full attention, and I’m sure that I’m not alone in that regard. There is a warning about the gunshots in the lobby, and they aren’t kidding. It isn’t a gun-heavy show, but rarely have I experienced shooting that looked and sounded so authentic in a theatre. It brought a feeling of real danger to the play, which mixed with the humor and trickery made it quite an onery confection indeed.
*** out of ****
Sleuth continues through to November 22nd in The Carnegie at 1028 Scott Boulevard in Covington, KY (about ninety minutes from Columbus, across from Cincinnati), and more information can be found at http://www.thecarnegie.com/wordpress/theatre/tickets-theater