‘Sleuth’ is a wicked game — and wicked fun
January 25, 2011
By Warren Kagarise
“Sleuth” unfolds in the sort of country manor stamped on every Clue game board.
The antiques-crammed rooms hide secrets, each character is a suspect, every drawer has a revolver stashed inside and the players jockey to solve the whodunit.
Professor Plum, in the library, with the candlestick, perhaps?
The comparison to the board game is certain to delight “Sleuth” character Andrew Wyke, a mystery novelist ensconced in a manor in the English countryside. The character — played by a guileful and gleeful David Pichette — might appreciate the reference, for Wyke adores games.
Early in the opening act, Wyke pauses at the typewriter to scrutinize the senet board on the coffee table. The audience is left to wonder if the ancient Egyptian game is a clue. The sumptuous set features a chessboard, too, for good measure.
Indeed, “Sleuth” is a wicked game from end to end. The latest offering from Village Theatre is no common-denominator thriller.
The plot can only be described in broad strokes. Before the curtain rises, the theater encourages audience members not to discuss the plot so as not to spoil “Sleuth” for others.
Nonetheless, some details can be dribbled out. The storyline centers, for a time, on a scorned husband and the class tensions present in the strata of English society, circa 1970.
The result is strange but appealing, as mischievous as a leprechaun.
The characters don ascots and smoking jackets, speak in dictionary-dense phrases and use Scotch to lubricate all social interaction.
Wyke and Milo Tindle meet at the country manor to discuss — as the program describes the initial scenes so as to tiptoe around the plot — some unpleasant business.
“This, as they say,” Wyke observes not long into Act 1, “is where the plot thickens.”
The brilliance in “Sleuth” is in the way the airtight plot hauls the audience along for the ride.
Young Tindle is MJ Sieber, pulling tricks on the audience like a magician pulls rabbits from a hat.
Pichette and Sieber — occasional costars and actors familiar to Seattle audiences — tear into the roles. Wyke is boozy and loose-limbed during the initial encounter. Tindle is insecure and stiff, lost inside a cheap suit.
“Sleuth” is rich in wordplay and verbal savagery. The taunts start early: Wyke, aghast because Tindle has never read any of his mystery novels, lambastes the younger man.
Scribe Anthony Shaffer assigned some of the best zingers to Wyke. The character goes on to describe a mismatched love affair as “a Bengali tigress bedding down with Bambi” and, to sum up matrimony, “Sex is the game! Marriage is the penalty!”
The characters lob insults — and more — across the stage for 130 minutes. Issaquah resident Martin Charnin — a Tony Award-winning writer for the Broadway blockbuster “Annie” — directs a proficient cast through the brisk production.
Village Theatre presents a single play per season — usually something along the lines of “The Importance of Being Earnest” or “Barefoot in the Park” or some other confection.
“Sleuth” — as charged and rich as fine Scotch — is a heady addition to the lineup.
The original Broadway production earned the Tony for Best Play in 1971. The local production maintains the original setting — a smart decision, because the play has aged as gracefully as Vanessa Redgrave in the decades since the Broadway debut.
The creative team has created a manor house rich in books and privilege on the Village Theatre stage. Details include Egyptian knickknacks lined up on the bookcase and a sailor statue used for comic — and creepy — effect throughout the play.
Indeed, from the fireplace to the mullioned glass, the place is meant to cause a certain sense of uneasiness.
Colonel Mustard, in the study, with a rope, perhaps?
If you go
- Village Theatre — Francis J. Gaudette Theatre
- 303 Front St. N.
- Jan. 20 – Feb. 27
- Show times vary
- $20 – $60
- 392-2202 or
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.