Anthony Shaffer’s cat-and-mouse comedy mystery thriller Sleuth ran nearly three years on Broadway in the early 1970s, chalking up over 1200 performances, much of the play’s success stemming from its multiple unexpected plot twists. The terrifically acted revival now playing at Little Fish Theatre delivers on most of the surprises, but unfortunately not on the big post-intermission humdinger.
Words like “clever” or “ingenious” hardly seem sufficient to describe Shaffer’s playful homage to the genre exemplified by Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Dorothy L. Sayers, any of whom could have served as inspiration for Sleuth’s bestselling mystery writer protagonist Andrew Wyke (Richard Perloff), whose life of inventing fictional crime turns factual when he meets his wife’s younger lover Milo Tindle (Bryson Jones Allman) in the novelist’s English country home.
Though 60ish Richard would seem justified in wanting to exact revenge from the spouse-stealing 30something travel agent, the writer has good reason to encourage his wife’s adultery, and so he makes the relatively penniless Milo a proposal designed to satisfy Marguerite’s expensive tastes while giving himself some much-needed freedom.
Adding complications along the way to Sleuth’s bang-up of an ending are appearances by a trio of police officers: Inspector Doppler (Gordon Keaton), Constable Higgs (Zachary Cornell), and Detective Tarrant (Maxwell Earl).
And that’s about all you’ll get from this reviewer unless you choose to click here and find out why this Sleuth doesn’t pack all the punch that it should. (If you don’t know the play and plan on checking it out, you might prefer to hold off on clicking.)
Despite this one relatively major flaw in execution, Little Fish’s Sleuth mostly succeeds thanks to Shaffer’s still brilliant script, James Rice’s assured direction, and a pair of terrific lead performances.
Little Fish staple Perloff embodies British upper class privilege and prejudice to marvelous effect as the flowery-tongued Andrew, and Allman could hardly be more dynamic or charismatic as the handsome, cockney-accented, half-Italian, half-Jewish Milo, Shaffer’s script allowing him to display considerable versatility later on in the cat-and-mouse game.
Supporting performances deserve kudos as well.
Scenic designer Bob Manning seats the audience on two sides of his splendidly rendered English manor home, aided by Daryl Hogue’s intricate scenic painting and Teresa Stirewalt’s multitude of props. Stacey Abrams scores high marks for her vivid lighting design, Marlee Delia for her nostalgic 1970s costumes (and one rainbow-colored outfit in particular), Jessica Westerfield for her suspense-enhancing sound design, and Patrick Vest for his realistic fight choreography.
Sleuth is produced by Tara Donovan. Rodney Rincon is stage manager.
Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St. San Pedro. T
March 24, 2016
Photos: Mickey Elliot