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After Magritte and The Real Inspector Hound

Harvard Theater

By Jess M. Bravin

By Tom Stoppard

Directed by Liza DiPrima

At Dunster House Dining Hall this weekend

TOM STOPPARD is an irreverent playwright, but the Dunster House production of two Stoppard farces almost expires beneath an overly-reverent treatment of the author's script.

After Magritte, which opens the evening, is a half hour-long exposition of the punchline to some joke based on a mildly obscure Magritte painting. A couple (Andrew Goldfarb and Susan Clafin) engaged in an absurd series of interior-decorating sight gags tries to reason out an event--possibly a crime--they saw in the street earlier that day. Standing in their cluttered set, they argue back and forth; if anyone fails to consider this unusual, Goldfarb's senile mother (Betsy Menes) intermittently plays the tuba to ensure a properly surrealist feel.

The play is a jumble of shouting voices until a police inspector (Jeff Wise) shows up. Wise, in an apt parody of the know-it-all British detective, deduces an utterly fraudulent solution to the problem. When the correct answer emerges, our understanding of the play is no clearer; in Stoppard, the process, not the plot, is the point.

Unfortunately, the production fails to realize that the dialogue in itself is the attraction of these plays, not the development of characters or progress of the story. While After Magritte is tolerably brief, The Real Inspector Hound, performed with the same cast, ponderously follows every twist in the script.

Like After Magritte, The Real Inspector Hound is a detective parody; the twist here is to blur the lines between audience, reviewer, cast and character. The "mystery," such as it is, is irrelevant, merely serving as an excuse for Stoppard to play with conventions of the stage. Set in a Gothic mansion on the moors, a group of caricatures expound upon their social problems--but somewhere outside, an escaped criminal lurks. The players include a dimwitted blonde (Susan Kelly), a melodramatic maiden (Meg Schellenberg) and a gruff crippled veteran (Wise) who play cards endlessly. Into the scene comes a stranger (Goldfarb) who seems to fit the description of the fugitive. Who is he, and what will happen?

This formulaic scenario is not the play's novelty. Instead, it's the running commentary given by two critics, John Claflin and Jamie McInnes. The two chat with one another about their own personal problems as well as the play, and eventually, when dramatic issues come to a head, enter the play itself to set things aright.

DiPrima's cast gives a competent reading to the material, and Stoppard's clever lines could probably withstand even the most brutal student production. But simple problems mar the production, particularly failed attempts at British accents and a failure to alter annoying British colloquialisms; phrases as "wind screen" instead of "windshield," "shaving foam" instead of "shaving cream" distract the audience for no purpose. Inspector Hound, moreover, at longer than an hour, begins to grate. DiPrima would have been wiser to slice out a third of the dialogue, and concentrate on the sparkling delivery of the remainder.

Nonetheless, Stoppard's sketches remain diverting and enjoyable entertainment. Those who favor Monty Python-styled British farce will find the Dunster House production an amusing if not uproarious evening.

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