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picture - The Real Inspector HoundTheater Review

by Kestryl Lowrey

published May 30, 2008


The Actor’s Nightmare and The Real Inspector Hound

now playing at the T. Schreiber Studio

through June 15


Every theatre artist, at some point, considers the ways in which reality mimics theatre, or how the theatricality of theatre can sometimes seem more real than reality itself.  There are a wealth of plays which deal with this train of thought, playing with the borders between the audience and the stage, and giving onlookers a glimpse behind the curtain and into the theatre’s constructed worlds.  In a sound pairing of two farcical one-acts within this theme, T. Schreiber Studio invites the audience to laugh as they entertain these possibilities. 


The Actor’s Nightmare, by Christopher Durang, presents us with a permutation of the near-universal fear of finding yourself entirely unprepared for something that (reasonably) you should be prepared for.  This fear springs, perhaps, out of the rational knowledge that no matter how prepared you are, things can still go wrong.  And, lets face it, such a prospect can be terrifying. 


Durang lets us watch the accelerating melt-down of an accountant (Michael Black) who finds himself thrown on stage in a leading role… with no recollection of ever being an actor or attending any rehearsals.  Hilarity, apparently, ensues, as he attempts to interact with the other characters even though he is clueless about which play he is starring in (some of the difficulty seems to come from the fact that the play changes every scene).  If you know your Coward, your Shakespeare, your Beckett, and a few others, you’ll have the opportunity to laugh along with all the inside theatre jokes, while more unfortunate audience members are forced to content themselves with slapstick consolations, watching the real wit of the play go flying over their heads. 


Stoppard’s play-within-a-play, The Real Inspector Hound, benefits from an interesting premise, though the production runs long.  Halfway through, I found myself agreeing with one character as he commented, “Well, it has a beginning, and a middle….and presumably it has an end.”  In the meantime, the play endeavors to probe into how individuals create and live in their own reality, using the handy frame of two theatre critics watching a murder mystery. 


It is no surprise that the script is amusing and topically thought-provoking.  The cast generally does well, having a strong grasp of the overdone style that the classic “Whodunit” necessitates.  However, I must disagree with my fellow audience members who raved on how the production broke the fourth wall – in order to smash the fourth wall, the play would need to directly confront the audience and acknowledge that it was doing so.  Instead, it is only Birdboot and Moon (wittily portrayed by Rick Forstmann and Julian Elfer), the scripted critics who begin on the sidelines and finish center-stage, for whom the fourth wall crumbles.  For the rest of the audience, it seems as if Stoppard has sidled up to the fourth wall and taken aim, but then, in a sudden change of heart, shatters the third wall instead.


Director Peter Jensen keeps both plays well in hand, and allows both farces to be witty and entertaining while still relevant and engaging.  An elaborate proscenium, specifically constructed for these one-acts, quite literally frames the action, at times almost dwarfing the players in its grandeur.  Of course, this is highly appropriate, considering how the evening underscores the theatricality of theatre. 


I would  be hard-pressed to say that the two one-acts do not provide for an enjoyable enough evening, but as the night draws to a close, it seems as if something is lacking.  The problem rests in that the climaxes and denouements of both pieces are entirely expected by the audience: we start the evening knowing that we are about to see plays intended to puncture the veil separating “theatre” and “reality.”  The plays would be more delightful (as well as wholly more unnerving) if we came into them unaware of their intentions, and found ourselves forced to puzzle as to what was real, what was rehearsed, and, most critically, what was theatre. 


kestryl.lowrey @


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