The boy and I have season tickets to the Shakespeare Theatre here in DC. At first blush, that seems like an extravagance, but when you realize that we’re both under 35 and the STC has a special deal, it seems criminal NOT to have a subscription. And as the blurb on their website says, we’re paying about $22 apiece for 4th row center – tickets that are normally around $100. Perhaps they’re buttering us up so that in a few years when we no longer qualify for the special deal, we’ll have ideas about needing to see the latest show at the Lansburgh or Harman Hall.
In any case, this was the first show of the new calendar year, and what a hoot. It’s two separate shows: “The Critic”, an 18th century farce by Richard Sheridan, and “The Real Inspector Hound” by Tom Stoppard, another farce, but this one with an absurdist bent. They are both one act, and well written shows that poke fun at professional critics. It’s enough to make me wonder if I should even be writing this post – for what am I doing by criticizing as a form of entertainment? But no matter – let’s look at them separately, because while they are presented together and share a cast, they deserve distinct evaluation.
“The Critic” is so very lush – the curtain opens, and everything is early 18th century color and vibrancy. As with many farces, this one has a long stretch that takes place in the drawing room, and the bustle in and out of characters with trait-appropriate names is quite funny. When we are finally introduced to Mr. Puff, the Critic being mocked most soundly throughout this endeavor, it is astounding. While many of the female characters have worn brightly colored gowns thus far, Robert Stanton as Puff is thrilling. A head taller than everyone in the room, bewigged in bright colors, and wearing the most outlandish costume yet, he is a sight to behold. He carries the play from the moment he enters. The second half takes place in a theater, where we get to see the play that Mr. Puff has written. While hopefully not spoiling too much, the mechanical special effects/set design is fantastic looking, and seems like an appropriate awesome thing for this piece. “The Critic” is quite funny, and while it sometimes resorts to baser humor (as was popular then…and now!), it provides continuous laughter at a quick pace.
“The Real Inspector Hound” is a show that I saw a long time ago as a school production, and I remembered seeing it, but not how it ended. This production opens with our view of a theater, seemingly looking from the back of the stage, through the production, into the audience, where sit two critics. For quite a long time, nothing happens. Eventually a show begins, and our critics discuss the show and their lives. The pace is very very slow – at times, you wonder if someone missed a cue, but I’m sure that all that empty time is meant as a way to emphasize the absurdity of the situation. Towards the end of the show, things really pick up, and then, it’s all a tumble-down race towards the end of the show.
As you may be able to tell from the way I wrote about the two shows, I have a definite preference, and that was for “The Critic” – it was lighter, frothier, more continuously comedic. I think the production could have benefited from staging “Hound” first and “Critic” to end, but the logistics and amount of time to do costume, hair and makeup make this impossible. They’re both good productions, and anyone attending Shakespeare Theatre during this run will have a good time, but be prepared for a less thrilling second half.
Details: The Critic & The Real Inspector Hound, Shakespeare Theatre Company, January 5 – February 14