With a mind boggling, cork-screw twisting crime caper production of Sleuth, Providence Players of Fairfax ends its successful 2011-2012 season with a bang. Under the artistic direction of Beth Hughes-Brown, Mike Donahue and Derek Bradley are intriguing and diabolically delicious master-class actors who expertly lead the audience through the twists and turns of this complicated thriller.
Winner of the 1971 Tony Award and Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play, Sleuth, written by Anthony Shaffer, premiered on Broadway in 1970. Sleuth is first-rate thriller whose twists and turns are fiendishly cunning, suspenseful, and a dazzling parody of the Agatha Christie country-house thriller. It is an impressive study of sexual conflict and jealousy between an older and a younger man, as well as an understated portrait of a sexually-obsessed middle-aged man.
The play is set in the Wiltshire, England manor house of Andrew Wyke, a successful mystery writer. He lures his wife’s lover, Milo Tindle, to the house and convinces him to stage a robbery of her jewelry, a proposal that sets off a suspenseful chain of events.
Cindy Paska and Matt Ames’ Providence Players production opens to the elaborate two story English manor house of Andrew Wyke set in the 70’s. Mike Donahue enters the set as a smoking jacket wearing Andrew Wyke, an aged supercilious and quite mad mystery writer who spends his days contemplating his board games, reading passages from his latest detective novel and telling jokes to his mannequin buddy, the sailor. Donahue churns out dialogue like a high speed Gatling gun with malicious intent and heinous purpose. Donahue leaves the audience trying to decipher where Wyke’s imagination ends and reality begins.
Derek Bradley plays Milo Tindle, a working class travel agent with dizzy grace. Without giving away the plot, Bradley expertly invokes every range of emotion. During the first act, Bradley goes from a smartly dressed smug cuckold lover to a quivering dupe dressed in a clown costume.
Sleuth is an inherently talky play with monologues that sometimes enhance and sometimes distract from the character development. Although the first act is long, Beth Hughes-Brown keeps the pace moving along like a downhill skier on a slalom course building speed with each twist and turn. Patrick David’s elaborate two story set design is absolutely amazing. He expertly recreates an old Tudor manor house of the 70’s by filling the stage chock-a-block with nostalgia such as an avocado green phone, grandfather clock, board games, stone fireplace with mantel and real fish tank. Chip Gertzog’s choice of Italian opera adds to the emotional tension. During a critical scene Milo sings and laughs along with the aria, while visually transforming into the butt of the joke, a clown. Derek Bradley’s grey pinstripe suit and his Parker Stevens-type 70’s era hair style designed by Katie Brown and George Smith adds to the play’s vibes.
Providence Players of Fairfax’s production of Sleuth showcases Donahue and Bradley at the top of their craft. Watching them engage in jousting match of wits is sheer delight. Donahue and Bradley are two actors I look forward to seeing in future productions.
Running Time: Approximately two hours, including one 15 minute intermission.