‘Inspector Hound' is an uproarious murder mystery

by Kristina Mani | 3/4/13 11:00pm

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by Anna Davies / The Dartmouth

"Inspector Hound" is a window into the theatrical world under the guise of an exaggerated murder mystery. The play presents the comical perspective of two theater critics responding to an Agatha Christie murder mystery set in 1940s England.

"It's a play within a play, the latter being a critique of the nature of theater itself, and the former being an overblown spoof of a 1940s era murder-mystery," graphic designer Ryan Hueston '14 said. "As a comedy, it is so jam-packed with irony, inside jokes and shenanigans that even now in rehearsals we have been discovering more humor."

James Rice, a senior lecturer in the theater department, praised O'Leary's selection.

"Not only is Stoppard a universally acclaimed playwright of intellect and wit, the play itself has a unique dramatic structure and is very funny to boot," Rice said.

Because the play is an ensemble piece, several actors coexist onstage effortlessly while playing unusual and comedic characters.

Set designer Gabriel Rodriguez '13 said the play's script provided many opportunities for humor that were highlighted by O'Leary's direction.

"Nick is a very involved director," Rodriguez said. "He has a good eye for things that are going to end up being funny on stage."

O'Leary said focusing on the more bizarre characters of the play and emphasizing the satire of Christie's murder mystery conventions formed the basis of his approach. He worked extensively with Rodriguez in order to create the world that exists within the piece, he said.

"This play in particular is about the watching of a play," O'Leary said. "We were very interested in messing with people's expectations and changing what it was like to come and see a play, to turn them around and look at a different part of the theatre experience."

The set recreates an isolated manor house in the British Moore near Essex in the post-World War II era. O'Leary and Rodriguez were able to change the experience of performing in Bentley with their unusual configuration of seating.

"We essentially took the whole Bentley out and rotated it," Rodriguez said.

Using three-quarter thrust staging, the theater's stage is elevated with seats to the front and sides of the stage. Two of the seats are occupied by the critics who are characters in the play.

The set's design focused on prop use and incorporated pieces typically found in a Victorian parlor. Hueston said he was proud that a large art-deco console radio, an antique telephone and several tables transformed Bentley into "a 1940's terrarium for people," he said.

O'Leary was pleased with the work of his design team, he said.

"It's just amazing what a great set, lighting, costume and sound designer can bring to a piece, because you forget when you are just in a rehearsal room in your street clothes how much you can really be supported when all these design elements come in," O'Leary said.

Hueston described the production's rehearsals as throwing a "murder mystery party after classes," making it easy for the crew to get excited about the production.

"Getting into character is no problem at all, since the set is like walking right into a film noir set," Hueston said. "I can barely contain the Inspector Hound inside of me."

The play's density consistently provides the actors and crew with new aspects to work on.

"There's always some new joke to discover, or some philosophical statement to reveal that The Real Inspector Hound' never ceases to be entertaining," Hueston said.

The real excitement will arise from seeing the production come together, as they present this beloved murder mystery in a new way, Rodriguez said.

Premiere night will bring "a little camp, a little darkness, a little drama and a whole lot of early 20th century class" onto the stage, Hueston said.

Audiences can expect to be engaged in the play's deep mystery while enjoying a humorous performance.

"Dartmouth students will really appreciate the intelligence and humor of this play," Rice said. "Underlying the nominal format of a Christie whodunit spoof, the viewer is skillfully guided through an examination of the nature of reality, fate, theater criticism and fantasy versus reality."

Hueston said he looks forward to the audience unraveling the mystery alongside the characters.

"The Real Inspector Hound' showcases the talents of an amazing group of individuals, is visually stunning and absolutely hilarious from start to finish," he said.