When we go to the theater, far more drama goes down than what happens on the stage. It might not be obvious peeking around at wide-eyed, smirking faces atop slumped bodies, but even with out attention rapt, we’re each bust integrating the story into our own inner frameworks, projecting ourselves onto its characters, starring in our own private dramas from the confines of our seats.
Tom Stoppard reminds us of this while poking fun both at the English drawing room mystery, and the noble art of theater criticism, in “The Real Inspector Hound,” currently being staged by the Publik Theater at the Boston Center for the Arts. Postmodernist as it may be, the majority of this play is dry wit and goofy satire, and its nailed by the Publik’s talented ensemble, helmed by artistic director Diego Arciniegas.
A madman is on the loose and murders have been committed at a remote English manner surrounded by swampland and fog. Everyone is a suspect. There’s the taciturn, all-seeing maid (Sheriden Thomas), Mrs. Drudge; there’s Simon (Danny Bryck), the mysterious stranger; Felicity (Anna Waldron), the sporty young heiress whom Simon has courted and misused; Cynthia, the heiresses’ mother, an amorous widow; and Magnus (scene-stealer, Gabriel Kuttner), the hostile and suspicion Scotsman with a hostile and suspicious orange beard, who rotates about the manner in a hostile and suspicious automatic wheel chair. Then there’s the intrepid, Inspector Hound, the archetype of the British detective who may or may not have things firmly in hand.
As we watch this familiar feeling murder mystery unfold, we also watch Moon (Barlow Adamson) and Birdboot (William Gardiner), who watch it as well. They are professional theater critics with their own axes to grind. Moon, as Birdboot reminds him, is a second stringer. Forever in the shadow of his paper’s head critic, he is desperate to make reputations for himself. Birdboot, meanwhile, is overly obsessed with defending his reputation as a starlet-maker from the imagined blight that he is also a seducer of said starlets. Like the characters they distractedly analyze, they must save their reputations and solve the crime.
It’s as fun to watch them do so as it is to watch the cast of the mystery, who manage just the right balance of understatement and sincerity to send their parody home. There are a few awkward touchesâ€”false starts and stops that can become more confusing than funny, the strange decision to give the mystery actors disastrous make-up mishaps to underscore their identities as amateursâ€”but these flaws are not enough to distract even a maligned theater critic from enjoying this witty bit of surrealism.
“The Real inspector Hound” plays through September 25 at the BCA’s Plaza Theater.