Early Stoppard and rebooted Sheridan, in an adaptation by Jeffrey Hatcher, both of them quite fun. One might think that there is nothing funny left to be found in a play-within-a-play that experiences a disastrous run-through, but errant 18th century stage machinery and wobbly wigs are up to the task. And how much more interesting, how reflexive, that the Guffman for whom the play is being presented is “Sheridan” himself. Robert Dorfman is very fine as Mr. Sneer, egging on the hapless Sir Fretful Plagiary (John Catron), giving him ridiculous notes that move his historical play of the Spanish Armada onto a plane not visited by reality.
In the second half”s Stoppard, the opening monologue by theater critic Moon—a celebration of second-stringers and deputies—was all the more piquant on the night we heard it, as understudy Brit Herring was standing in as Moon. Naomi Jacobson is perfect as Mrs. Drudge, the dogsbody of Muldoon Manor who answers the telephone with the scene-setting stage directions. Dorfman is quite deranged as Inspector Hound, as if Agatha Christie’s Sgt. Trotter were played by a braying Harpo Marx. And hats off to the props and effects departments, who provide an offstage crashbox that actually sounds funny, as well as the excruciatingly noisy chocolates wrapper with which Birdboot opens the proceedings.
Who is the mysterious intruder? Tom Stoppard offered this answer in a 1999 speech reprinted as a program note: “…a play which depends on keeping its secrets isn’t worth seeing twice… When it comes to mystery stories I am in agreement with Edmund Wilson… whodunits would be more interesting if Playbill named the murderer.”
- The Critic, by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher
- The Real Inspector Hound, by Tom Stoppard, both directed by Michael Kahn, Shakespeare Theatre Company, Washington