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GAMES PEOPLE SLAY

  

picture - MindgameTheater Review

by Harvey Perr

published November 14, 2008

 

Mindgame

now playing Off Broadway at the SoHo Playhouse

open run

 

When was the last time you saw a good old-fashioned psychological thriller? One that was twisty enough, nutty enough, terrifying enough, witty enough to guarantee a  pleasant enough couple of hours in the theater? One that even, for die-hard fans of the genre, supplies bountiful clues all over the place including inside the set design? Deathwatch?  Sleuth? Well, Anthony Horowitz’s Mindgame is not in that league, but it might do to fill the gap for anyone hankering for this sort of thing. At least, the first act is pretty sure to do it.

 

The brilliantly imaginative Ken Russell, who, believe it or not, is making his debut here as a theater director (excluding opera), has said that when he finished reading the first act, he reached for a Scotch, and, by the time he finished the second act, he had also finished the bottle. Perhaps he needed to reflect a bit more soberly on the whole play before getting to work on it. All things considered, he does a pretty bang-up job on that first act, pulling all the stops out, going deliciously over the top, and setting us up for, if nothing else, a good time. The premise isn’t bad: a writer visits a mental institution in order to interview a serial killer for a book he is writing on the subject. But why is he locked in the office of the chief psychiatrist? Why is the psychiatrist acting so strange when he finally arrives, either from a session with an inmate or a game of golf? Why is his chief nurse wearing a fright wig and a scanty white plastic miniskirt? You find out just enough to be intrigued and, at the same time, a bit wary that perhaps the peculiar goings-on have exhausted themselves when the curtain comes down at the end of the first act.

 

It’s because they have. Things get sillier and sillier as the play continues, and, by the end, it has gone off into cuckoo-land, and, on top of that, it tries to get a serious examination of what is sane and what is insane going on between the lines (which proves desperate and futile). The last few moments are so botched that one can hardly even remember them within moments after leaving the theater. And things are not helped by the fact that the writer is played by a woefully uncharismatic actor, Lee Godart, which leaves the psychiatrist, played by Keith Carradine, somewhat cast adrift, without a worthy adversary in tow. And that’s a shame, because, through thick and thin, through twist and turn, through hackle-raising and limp retreat, Mr. Carradine is a delightful surprise who never, not for a single moment, lets go of the character he has created. This is a Keith Carradine this reviewer has never seen before. Urbane and sophisticated and totally British throughout, but with a streak of madness that is pure joy to contemplate.

 

There are parts I would never have associated with Keith Carradine that are now crying out to be played by him: Henry Higgins in a revival of My Fair Lady, for one, and Jonathan in Arsenic and Old Lace, for another. Yes, that’s it, Carradine is a cross between Rex Harrison and Boris Karloff, and it’s a sight to behold, a performance to cherish, the proof that, even in a play as progressively threadbare and tiresome as Mindgame eventually becomes, one can come across a fine actor just doing his job and being damned good at it.

 

harveyperr @ stageandcinema.com

 

 
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