Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

The Critic and The Real Inspector Hound
Signature Theatre
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's review of Georgie: My Adventures with George Rose

Naomi Jacobson, John Ahlin, Sandra Struthers, and Hugh Nees
Photo by Scott Suchman
Playwrights and critics have a co-dependent relationship: the playwright dislikes, even fears, the critic's negative opinion but craves positive attention. This dynamic becomes even more complicated when a critic becomes a playwright.

Director Michael Kahn has decided to bring this difficult situation into plain sight at the Lansburgh Theatre in Washington, where the Shakespeare Theatre Company has staged two one-acts from different centuries that (more or less) allow the theater to get the last laugh: Richard Brinsley Sheridan's The Critic, adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher, and Tom Stoppard's The Real Inspector Hound.

The Critic, written in 1779, presents London theater critics so obsessed with their work that nothing else is worth their time. The newspapers are full of stories about the American Revolution and possible threats from France, but the only thing that matters to Mr. Dangle (John Ahlin) and Mr. Sneer (Robert Dorfman) is the placement of their reviews. A third practitioner, Mr. Puff (Robert Stanton), has a surprisingly modern outlook: rather than simply express his own opinions, he manipulates the public based on whoever pays the best.

The tables turn, however, when Mr. Puff invites the other critics to observe a rehearsal of a play he has written and offer their suggestions. Kahn turns the play-within-a-play into a delightful mélange of wardrobe malfunctions, too few actors for too many roles (Hugh Nees fights a duel with himself), and stage machinery with a mind of its own.

Stoppard's 1968 play is a bit more metaphysical: he places his critics, Moon (Stanton) and Birdboot (Ahlin), center stage but depicts them watching life from the outside. (He wrote Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead around this same time.) Moon lives in the shadow of the first-string critic whose leftovers he gets to review; Birdboot takes an enthusiastic interest in the careers of agreeable young actresses. They attempt to find cosmic significance and intellectual justification in the play they are watching—not easy with a creaky whodunit in the manner of Agatha Christie, all foreshadowing and convenient outbursts.

The same eight actors appear to great and contrasting effect in both plays, allowing Naomi Jacobson to shift from a critic's acerbic wife to a grumbling Cockney housekeeper and giving the actors playing actors the opportunity to begin in cotton-candy wigs and gowns in sherbet colors and move to chic evening wear and sleek hairstyles. Murell Horton's costumes, especially in The Critic, are triumphs of excess, while James Noone's clever scenic designs make a lot out of a little.

Following the end of the Washington run, this production will be seen at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis.

Shakespeare Theatre Company
In association with Guthrie Theater
The Critic and The Real Inspector Hound
January 5th - February 14th
The Critic
By Richard Brinsley Sheridan, adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher
Mr. Dangle: John Ahlin
Mrs. Dangle: Naomi Jacobson
Servant/Prompter: Hugh Nees
Mrs. Buxom/Actress 1: Sandra Struthers
Signora Décolleté/Actress 2: Charity Jones
Mr. Sneer: Robert Dorfman
Sir Fretful Plagiary/Actor: John Catron
Mr. Puff: Robert Stanton
The Real Inspector Hound
By Tom Stoppard
Moon: Robert Stanton
Birdboot: John Ahlin
Mrs. Drudge: Naomi Jacobson
Simon Gascoyne: John Catron
Felicity Cunningham: Sandra Struthers
Cynthia Muldoon: Charity Jones
Major Magnus: Hugh Nees
Inspector Hound: Robert Dorfman
Radio Voice: Brit Herring
Harman Center for the Arts, Lansburgh Theatre
450 7th St. NW
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-547-1122 or 877-487-8849 or

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