Each and every MetroStage production demands eager anticipation. In most cases, playgoers can expect a musical. And whether a frothy delight or a serious biography, it never fails to thrill.
Every so often we throw in a mystery, says artistic director Carolyn Griffin.
And this ones a doozy. Tom Stoppards absurdist play within a play, The Real Inspector Hound, is a quirky, kitschy parody of the stereotypical English parlor mystery. If you want it played straight, stick with Agatha Christie.
The plot begins at a theatre where two critics hash out reviews and boast about their past successes. Did you see my review in neon? asks Birdboot, an over-the-hill rou whose affinity for ingnues has him salivating after the plays leading ladies.
His cohort, the pompous Moon, a fellow toiler in the greasepaint, is more concerned with the plays analytics and his fellow competitors. Elan without clat he suggests describing a play he reviewed. Birdboot trumps the prissy Moon by whipping out examples of his marquee quote made famous.
But, hold on, there is a dead body onstage. Its been there all along though only the audience is aware of it. A quick flip through the playbill reveals that four actors are scheduled to perform this role on an alternating basis with only one corpse per performance. It must be exhausting to play dead. Its almost unimaginable to conceive of lying stark still for the length of the play, not to mention without chuckling, throat clearing or reacting to the hilarious exchanges of your fellow cast members as they whirl madly past you.
A quick check every now and again confirmed that the corpse did not move an inch, even when accidentally run over by Major Magnus Muldoon making his wheelchair entrance. Touch to stoicism!
The action is centered at Muldoon Manor in the foggy marshes of Essex, England, where Lady Cynthia, played magnetically by the voluptuous Emily Townley, is entertaining her eccentric guests. A murder has been committed in the nearby hamlet and the local gendarmes are hard on the heels of the perpetrator. The whodunit involves a dashing cad, Simon Gascoyne; the eccentric, crippled brother-in-law, Muldoon; the adorably clingy and innocent Felicity Cunningham; the haunted parlor maid Mrs. Drudge and of course the natty Inspector Hound.
Could it be Muldoon (I think Ill go and oil my guns)? Or Simon, afraid his past loves are catching up with him? Perhaps Felicity has revenge on her pretty little mind? The audience has mere seconds to deduce the answer when the characters occasionally go into melodramatic freeze-frame mode.
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 plot.
This production is fast-paced, so pull your bowler down firmly before entering the theatre lest it blow off in a storm of witticisms. With a crack cast and a dizzying plot, its another winner for MetroStage.
The Real Inspector Hound runs through May 29 at MetroStage, 1201 North Royal St. in Alexandria.
Visit www.metrostage.org for tickets and information.