Would you like to play a game?
No no no! This isn’t the latest installment of a poorly-written body horror series. This is Sleuth, a mystery/thriller by Anthony Shaffer. The title made me think this play was probably a just silly British farce of some sort. I hadn’t seen it, or either of its ﬁlm versions (both starring Michael Caine.) Upon entering the theatre, I was warned that “There will be at least one, and possibly more gunshots in this show.” by at least three ushers.
"Spoilers,” I thought.
The show opens in the lavish country home of Andrew Wyke (played by Hunter Boyle), a successful writer of many mystery novels and a man obsessed with games. He’s clever, and he knows it. Games of strategy and wit are what he lives for. Shaffer once said he based parts of this character on his friend, Stephen Sondheim, who also shared a love of games.
Unfortunately, his wealth and intelligence aren’t enough to captivate his much younger wife. She has left him for the handsome young Milo Tindle (played by the also handsome Jason Stokes). Wyke invites Tindle to his home to presumably discuss the details of his pending divorce from his wife.
Sleuth surprised me in many ways. As I said, I didn’t expect this play to be much more than a witty farce. But it is much smarter than that. What begins as a situation comedy, with plenty of funny wit-matching and clever dialogue, becomes something far darker and complex as the action unfolds. Wyke and Tindle aren’t the only ones playing games here. This script was written to toy with the audience and their expectations as well. Just when we’re comfortable and think we understand what this show is about, Sleuth takes another turn - carefully placing its next piece.
Boyle and Stokes are well-cast in their roles as the jilted-but-proud novelist and the young-but-not-so-dumb lover. It’s a tricky thing to go from quick banter to far scarier places at the drop of a hat, but they do this fairly well. Their British accents aren’t bad, although a bit of Southern crept in every now and again. There were opportunities where they could really brought out the more sinister moments of this play with even more intensity, but I only saw this show on its opening night. With seasoned actors such as these, I expect even more commanding performances as the show progresses.
Randy Strange’s country manor set is impressive, with all the trappings of wealth presented in a style you’d expect of Wyke. Alexis Doktor’s costumes are nicely done as well, although they seemed to lean towards the 1970 publication date of this play, rather than the contemporary setting that is indicated by the use of a few modern bits of technology throughout the show. There were a couple of technical glitches in the performance I caught, but seeing Hunter Boyle play them off made me forgive thesesmall ﬂukes.
I hope others aren’t put off like I almost was by what kind of play they assume Sleuth may be, because you really don’t know. Trust me. I would love to share more...but I’m afraid that would just ruin the game. The play runs through Sat. 11/23; call the box office for ticket information at 803-799-6551, or visit http://www.workshoptheatre.com.
~ Jillian Owens