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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, May 25, 2010

'Sleuth' revival hamstrung by lack of restraint

Special to The Advertiser

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Todd Coolidge, left, and Dwight Martin star in Manoa Valley Theatre's production of "Sleuth."

Malia Leinau photo

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7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, and 4 p.m. Sundays, through June 6

Manoa Valley Theatre


988-6131, www.manoavalleytheatre.com

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Anthony Shaffer's "Sleuth" is both a comic parody of the murder mystery genre and a chilling psychological drama filled with twists, turns and surprises.

But in the revival now at Manoa Valley Theatre, it plays with an abundance of excess overwritten, overdesigned and overacted.

The basic premise throws two men into a struggle for a woman who is never seen. Andrew Wyke invites Milo Tindle into his lavish English manor to make him an unusual proposition. Milo has been having an affair with Andrew's wife and Andrew is willing to have him take her off his hands. But to assure that Milo will be able to support her in a manner that does not have her coming back, Andrew proposes they stage a jewel robbery.

Milo will sell the stolen jewels and keep the woman comfortable. Andrew will collect the insurance and turn to his mistress for comfort. They stage a crazy burglary with Milo wearing a Pagliacci clown suit. It almost works.

What gets in the way are two devious minds intent on psychologically damaging each other in a treacherous game where nothing is quite what it seems. As the characters act out their antagonisms and punishments, the play pulls the audience into the fray tantalizing and fooling us.

Or so it should. But too often in the MVT production, what should have us on the edge of our seats has us checking our watches instead.

The show runs three hours with intermission, and could be significantly cut. When we've had enough of the interplay and the double reverses, we begin to feel like the playwright has stopped sharply poking with his needles and has begun to crochet dialogue doilies.

Dwight Martin, as Andrew, delivers a performance that is consistent, appropriately histrionic and a bigger-than-life tour de force. But while pauses and italicized articulation can be effective when used judiciously, not every scene need be played as an operatic aria.

Todd Coolidge, as Milo, has a wide acting range that needs to be modulated in this role to keep it from turning into a multiple personality case. Given its disparate aspects, we are never quite sure who his character is.

Both men affect accents, which require hard listening from the audience. Sometimes, accents switch up, requiring another round of bearing down to decipher the words.

Elitei Tatafu Jr. directs. Benjamin MacKrell and Julia Pons follow his lead by designing a set that is much too big for what happens on it. With two stories including inner belows and inner aboves, the MVT stage looks like the economy version of a Rocky Mountain chalet right out of "Architectural Digest."

The lighting and sound design are similarly over the top, featuring shadows, special spots, and recorded music seemingly remotely controlled by characters on stage.

In its various versions, "Sleuth" has received critical acclaim. If we try hard, we can see what this production might be with a one-word adjustment. That word is restraint.