Anthony Shaffer’s 1970 comedy-thriller, “Sleuth,” is a high-stakes cat-and-mouse game with multiple twists and reversals that keep the audience in suspense until the very last moment. It’s a daunting challenge for the actors and creative team, but Theatre Raleigh is up to the task in its impressive production.
The play is set in 1970s England at the lavish country home of famous mystery writer, Andrew Wyke. He’s obsessed with games of all sorts, which becomes obvious in his meeting with Milo Tindle, a neighbor he’s asked over for drinks. Andrew quickly cuts to the chase, telling Milo he’s aware that Milo and his wife Marguerite are having an affair.
Andrew says he no longer loves Marguerite, offering to divorce her if Milo will help him fake a jewelry theft. Andrew claims his foolproof plan should benefit both – Milo by fencing the goods and Andrew by receiving the insurance claim. Milo reluctantly agrees but becomes suspicious of Andrew’s real motives as the elaborate setup leaves room for implicating Milo in the crime.
Shaffer’s script is witty and richly theatrical, requiring near-Shakespearean delivery, along with dexterous precision for its physical demands. Director John McIlwee gets snappy pacing and boisterous characterizations from his cast, grandly supported by Chris Bernier’s densely detailed, two-story set and Denise Schumaker’s ornate old-world props. Eric Alexander Collins’ fine sound design includes clock chimes, doorbells and realistic gunshots.
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Michael Brocki fully inhabits pompous, wily Andrew, alternating swaggering power and frightened desperation, depending on his position as cat or mouse. Brocki’s characterization seems somewhat caricatured at first, but it’s later revealed as a cover for a coldly murderous soul underneath.
Jesse Gephart’s Milo begins as a mild, hesitant accomplice but soon strengthens as the stakes become life and death. Gephart has the wider range to play and takes full advantage with consummate skill.
The play has several “not to be revealed” climaxes that make the production particularly clever. The script is somewhat wordy, especially the first act, but the cliffhanger before intermission leads to an exciting second act that sends the audience home happily satisfied.
Want to go?
What: “Sleuth,” presented by Theatre Raleigh
Where: Kennedy Theatre, Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh
When: 8 p.m. today, Saturday and Aug. 12-15; 2 p.m. Saturday and 15; 3 p.m. Sunday and 16
Tickets: $27 (seniors, students, military $25)
Info: 919-832-9997 or theatreraleigh.com