Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

The Critic and The Real Inspector Hound
Double BillGuthrie Theater
Review by Arthur Dorman | Season Schedule

Also see Arty's reviews of You for Me for You, Silence! The Musical, and Gypsy

John Ahlin, Robert Dorfman, and Robert Stanton
in The Critic

Photo by Scott Suchman
What a treat for a theater critic: a double bill of two whip-smart one-act plays, each of which has the aim of lampooning our own work! This pairing of The Critic and The Real Inspector Hound, a co-production of Guthrie Theater and Washington D.C. based Shakespeare Theatre Company, has landed with a flourish on the Guthrie's McGuire Stage. The Critic is Richard Brinsley Sheridan's 1779 play, here in a new Jeffrey Hatcher adaptation, and The Real Inspector Hound is Tom Stoppard's 1968 play. Each takes a different approach to making sport of a critic's lot, but the good news is you don't have to be a critic to be thoroughly entertained by the wit and humor on hand. If you are uneasy taking my word for it (after, all I am a critic myself), consult the repeated bursts of laughter and robust applause issued by the audience surrounding me.

The Critic, the opener, includes three theater critics as its primary characters. Their names, Mr. Dangle, Mr. Sneer, and Mr. Puff, are clues to the cartoon-like construction of this piece. That is meant in a good way, as each character is presented as an exaggeration of a type. Mr. Sneer is the kind of critic loathe to issue praise. As he puts it, "a critic does not go to the theater for enjoyment; he goes to find out what went wrong." He and his colleague Mr. Dangle are paid a visit by Mr. Puff, a critic of a different stripe, who is inclined to find something good to say about every aspect of a production even before he has seen it—the original "puff piece," perhaps.

However, Mr. Puff has ventured beyond his puffery, and written a play of his own, a tragedy no less, titled The Spanish Armada. Sneer connives to have himself and Dangle invited to a rehearsal, and offers guidance that will ensure the play is snatched up by Mr. Sheridan (yes, the playwright inserted himself into this loopy work, though he does not make an on-stage appearance) for production in his top-ranked Drury Lane Theatre. What Sneer really has in mind, though, is to give Puff a string of falsehoods (such as stating that Sheridan detests anything Spanish, a problem for a play about the Spanish Armada) and bad advice that will blow the whole affair to pieces. The results are hilarious as the play and its put-upon cast melt down in rehearsal.

Hugh Nees, Robert Stanton, John Ahlin, John Catron, Sandra Struthers, and Charity Jones
in The Real Inspector Hound

Photo by Scott Suchman
The Real Inspector Hound begins with two drama critics, Moon and Birdboot, facing us from theater seats at the rear of the stage, as they wait for a play to begin in the space between us. The two men each have their minds on their own issues. Moon is his paper's second string reviewer, and is envious of lead reviewer Higgs, tired of being asked "where is Higgs?" whenever he reviews a show. Moon speculates as to how long before Higgs steps downor dies— so he can be the man on top. Birdboot has a weakness for the charms of various actresses, insisting that his meetings with them are merely professional courtesies, and scheming to keep his wife from finding out. Their verbalized judgements of the staged drama—a clichéd murder mystery set in a remote, fog-bound country estate—repeatedly turn into ruminations on their respective personal concerns. Then, in a delightful turn of events, these two men become part of the mystery on stage, and the wall between watching and taking part in drama is merrily erased.

Both plays start of slowly, but in short order they pick up steam, and once the laughter commences, there is no stopping it. Michael Kahn has directed the ensemble of eight actors (all of whom appear in both one-acts) to wring the material of all its comic juice. Kahn is able to draw the audience's attention to the smallest of details, if that is where the next pearl of wit will be found, and that applies to both verbal and physical comedy.

The eight member cast is composed of four actors well known to Twin Cities theatergoers (three of the four are frequent cast-members at the Guthrie) and four actors who frequently work at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington D.C., where Michael Kahn is Artistic Director. They all excel and work beautifully together as a unit. Highlights include Robert Stanton, who is particularly strong in both pieces, as Mr. Puff and as the drama critic Moon; Robert Dorman, terrific as the snide Mr. Sneer in The Critic; and John Ahlin, who totally inhabits the libidinous Birdboot in Inspector Hound, and is a dandy Mr. Dangle in The Critic as well. John Catron etches a deliciously pompous playwright, Sir Fretful Plagiary, in the first scene of The Critic, then goes on to hilariously play all the male characters in the doomed rehearsal of The Spanish Armada. Sandra Struthers, Charity Jones, Hugh Nees, and Naomi Jacobson complete the cast, and each does sparkling work.

Both plays are given jeweled productions, with luxurious costumes and sets. The costumes, designed by Murell Horton, are extravagant and, especially in the case of The Critic, very much contribute to the show's comic ribaldry and delicious excessiveness. James Noone's sets are spot on. Particularly splendid are the play-within-a-play sets for The Spanish Armada. Lighting and sound designs are first rate as well.

Sheridan (and his adapter, Hatcher) find humor in the excesses of those who create theater as well as those who sit in judgment of it. Stoppard's humor is based on playing with the lines that separate the observer from the observed, the performer from the critic. Sheridan's work is cheekier, more physical, and at times sophomoric, while Stoppard's is droller, touching on the absurd. Both are valid perspectives and, most importantly, make their points in a spirit of sheer fun. Together, The Critic and The Real Inspector Hound make for a full and hugely entertaining program.

The Critic and The Real Inspector Hound, a Guthrie Theater production in association with Shakespeare Theatre Company, continues through March 27, 2016, at the Guthrie's McGuire Proscenium Stage, 618 South 2nd Street, Minneapolis, MN, 55115. Tickets: $17.00 - $64.00. Student and 30 & Below (ages 16 – 30) discounts available. For tickets call 612-377-2224 or go to Rush seats may be available 30 minutes before performance, from $15.00 - $30.00, cash only.

The Critic Written by: Richard Brinsley Sheridan; Adapted by: Jeffrey Hatcher; The Real Inspector Hound Written by: Tom Stoppard; Director: Michael Kahn; Scenic Design: James Noone; Costume Design: Murell Horton; Lighting Design: Mark McCullough; Sound Design: Christopher Baine; Composer; Adam Wernick; Fight Director: Paul Dennhardt; Period Movement Consultant: Frank Ventura; Dramaturg for STC: Drew Lichtenberg; Dramaturg for Guthrie Theater: Jo Holcomb; Stage Manager: Joseph Smelser; Assistant Stage Manager: Jason Clusman; Assistant Director: Amy Rummenie; Design Assistants: Ryan Connealy (lighting) and Reid Rejsa (sound associate);

Cast for The Critic: John Ahlin (Mr. Dangle), John Catron (Sir Fretful Plagiary, Actor), Robert Dorfman (Mr. Sneer), Naomi Jacobson (Mrs. Dangle), Charity Jones (Signora Décolleté, Actress 2), Hugh Nees (Servant, Prompter), Robert Stanton (Mr. Puff), Sandra Struthers (Mrs. Buxom, Actress 1).

Cast for The Real Inspector Hound: John Ahlin (Birdboot), John Catron (Simon Gascoyne), Robert Dorfman (Inspector Hound), John Andrew Hegge (Radio Voice), Naomi Jacobson (Mrs. Drudge), Charity Jones (Cynthia Muldoon), Hugh Nees (Major Magnus), Robert Stanton (Moon), Sandra Struthers (Felicity Cunningham).

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