This double-bill of one-act comedies explores the realization of dreams and nightmares. An accountant gets thrust onto the stage to replace a sick actor without knowing any of his lines in The Actor's Nightmare, and two theater critics plant themselves into the plot of a murder-mystery play while attending it in The Real Inspector Hound. Although both farces are entertaining, well-directed and well-executed, one's joke goes on too long, and the other not long enough. The Real Inspector Hound is a crowning jewel: funny, clever . . . if you like to laugh, don't miss this production.
Reviewed by Cindy Pierre
One man's dream is another man's nightmare. Maybe you haven't heard that sentiment phrased quite that way before. Does the idiom "one man's garbage is another man's art" ring a bell? If it does, you're well on your way to understanding George Spelvin's (Michael Black) plight in Christopher Durang's The Actor's Nightmare. George, an accountant with limited knowledge of the classics, gets called to stand in for a sick actor in a medley of plays from playwrights ranging from Shakespeare to Noel Coward to Samuel Beckett. Unfortunately, he has no choice but to wing it because he doesn't know his lines. Thankfully, T. Schrieber Studio's cast doesn't suffer the same fate: their production--which could've been confusing not only to George but the audience, too--goes off without a hitch.
The Actor's Nightmare has a sophisticated beginning that unfurls in a classic way, with a bow-tied host and a beautiful vintage set by George Allison. As George arrives on set, briefcase in hand, he looks and acts like an accountant, but as he's surrounded by "actors," it's laughs that start adding up. The cast and crew treat him as if he's been there before, calling him everything but George, and it all seems like a crazy and terrible dream. Christopher Durang's writing demonstrates a flair for comedy that shines with Black's purposefully fumbling and bumbling performance, but the repetition of the gag gets excessive after a few scenes from the various plays. The "nightmare" for George may have some twists and good quips, but ultimately, not even Black's toiling over dialogue and the creative mishmash of phrases is enough to disguise the fact that this joke is running way too long. Still, Black isn't the only one who partakes in the near trickery. As Sarah Siddons, Nan Wray is wonderful, and a big factor for the enjoyment of the piece. She almost makes the extended punchline forgivable. Peter Jensen's ability to shuttle the actors on and off the stage from scene to scene and maintain Black's befuddlement is also impressive. The Actor's Nightmare is well-executed, good fun, but it's only an appetizer to the more satisfying meal.
Tom Stoppard's The Real Inspector Hound is not one man's, but two men's dreams made reality. In it, theater critics Moon (Julian Elfer) and Birdboot (Rick Forstmann) exchange places with the actors in a play they are attending. As the mystery unfolds, the critics carry on witty banter that reveals Moon as a second-string critic standing in for a first stringer named Higgs. Moon's obsession with his status and that of a critic beneath him is so richly entertaining and human that it may inspire you not only to laugh but to reflect on the hierarchy at your own job. But what makes The Real Inspector Hound so good is not just the comedic element, but the chance to get to see people stop being envious of what others are doing and experiencing, and doing it themselves.
When the murder-mystery play within the play opens, someone is already lying dead on the floor of a beautiful study. Like 40s and 50s capers, the play is very telling, and the actors within it are extremely funny. Peter Jensen's direction is again spot-on, maneuvering the cast around and beside the dead body without actually confronting it. Maggie Dashiell plays Cynthia, the object of Birdboot's desire. She's a vision in a beautiful crimson dress, and her overly exaggerated bombshell moves are just right for this part. Birdboot is soon no longer content with ogling her from his seat, and while he gets into the action to interact with the woman of his dreams, Moon jumps into the play to carry out his paranoia about his unsatisfying job. Soon, the scenes are being performed again with the two new members of the cast, with the old ones taking their places in the critics seats. At this point, not only are dreams coming true, but actor's envy has been identified and has been overcome with actor's experience. Both productions use fog effects, but when it's used here, it's like a raging, surly character beating down the door. Fantastic. With a great script, solid direction, and actors with a rightful twinkle in their eyes, The Real Inspector Hound is a triumph.
Through June 15th. Tickets: $20. 212-352-3101 or http://www.tschreiber.org/. T. Schreiber Studio, 151 West 26th street, 7th floor.