Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

September 27, 2010

The Real Inspector Hound

Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, MA
through November 7, 2010
by Shera Cohen

Laughs begin before the play does, as the announcer informs the audience of the usual dos and don'ts. Yet the instructions are far from usual. The audience's second response of laughter comes seemingly prior to the production as well. A bumbling late-comer cannot find his seat, stumbles over patrons, and ultimately sits in the first row, stage left. Indeed, he is the lead in this quirky play - actually two plays. An extremely bad melodrama is swallowed up by a farce. Think: Monty Python performs Agatha Christie.

As the pathetic play-within-a-play whodunit is mounted, two critics (actors) comment throughout. These men are none too bright although they sound smart - English accents do that. In reading the program book, character names are giveaways that something funny is amuck. Descriptions alongside these names ("the crippled half-brother" and "mysterious stranger") are pluses in case anyone misses the joke the first time.

Director Jonathan Croy, one of a Shakespeare & Company's best actors/directors and ol' timers, purposely paints both plays with broad strokes, all for the sake of non-stop humor. His cast includes some Berkshire "greats" like Josh Aaron McCabe (lecherous critic), David Joseph (suave murderer), and Wolfe Coleman (brainless inspector). The comedy is physical. A card game is a hodgepodge of anything goes. A love scene, if you could call it that, involves the pair rolling all over the floor and into a dead man. Yet, nothing stops this chaos.

While the blind housekeeper joke is lovely, it goes on a bit too long, even for the farce factor of "let's milk it." Also, with two characters seated in the audience, it must be a problem for those seated behind them to fully see what is going on. Section A seating is dead on, but a recommendation is to ask about sightlines before purchasing tickets.

The set is an isolated mansion. The sound is somewhat regal music upon the entrance of every character, every time. The elegant costumes are from a B movie set. And doesn't everyone wear a gown while playing tennis? There isn't anything on or in the set that is supposed to be real, which adds even more to the fun.