If you've ever seen any of the Tom Stoppard word orgies he calls plays, you know he's positively in love with language. The smartest, most erudite playwright working in the medium today, he's the theatrical equivalent of the school geek who's always the first to raise his hand. He can be an annoying showoff, but he can also be so wickedly funny that you can't help but be a little in awe of him.
In The Real Inspector Hound, Stoppard's 80-minute one-act, two ponderous theater critics watch a stuffy British cliché of a murder mystery being performed onstage, writing the reviews aloud as they watch. Then, before you can say Agatha Christie or Groundhog Day, the actors and the critics change places. Then somebody pulls a gun.
Ever figure out that a particular critic might write favorably about a singularly untalented but beautiful actor/ actress because he wants to hump that person's brains out? Ever think a critic sits hunched over a thesaurus as he's writing so he can repeat himself without appearing to do so? Ever get the idea that a critic complains about the air conditioner because he's too dumb to get the play?
While these are not Stoppard's only critiques—or his own: I tossed in a couple myself—The Real Inspector Hound guarantees you'll never again look at critics the same way.
As good as the script is, the tone set by director Jill Cary Martin misses most of the laughs. The cast simply isn't up to Stoppard's elegant language: instead of inhabiting the world the words create, they stumble about, misdelivering enough of the setups and punch lines that most of the dialogue comes out sounding jumbled and confused. Or maybe that's just the hack critic in me.
The Real Inspector Hound at the Vanguard Theater Ensemble, 699A S. State College Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 526-8007. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m. Through Nov. 20. $15-$17.