The Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, DC is staging two one-act comedies at its Lansburgh Theatre, written about two centuries apart. Artistic Director Michael Kahn directs both. Tom Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound (1968)is one of his earliest plays and is an immensely enjoyable one for those of us who like clever pieces of absurdity. In it,two theatre critics watch a play and eventually become drawn onto the stage. Moon (Robert Stanton) is a second string critic who chafes at being always in the shadow of his newspaper’s primary critic, Higgs, Mr. Stanton depicts well the character’s insecurities. The other critic, Birdboot (John Ahlin), loudly proclaims his marital fidelity while at the same time betraying a weakness for actresses. Each is wrapped up in his own concerns even while they watch and comment upon the play. The play within a play is a parody of a murder mystery with a couple of people shot in an isolated house owned by a noblewoman, Lady Cynthia Muldoon (Charity Jones). Eventually the critics’ own concerns and the play within a play merge. and the detective, Inspector Hound, solves all (or rather attempts to). I confess this is perhaps my favorite comic play and the actors are worthy of this highly amusing concoction, resisting the temptation to unduly ham it up.
The other play (it is staged first) is an adaptation by Jeffrey Hatcher of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s The Critic (1779). It, too, involves two theatre critics, Mr. Dangle (John Ahlin) and Mr. Sneer (Robert Dorfman), and the first part is a witty criticism of theatre criticism and public relations. The play moves on to satirize conventions of the eighteenth century stage itself when the two critics contrive to get writer, and what we would call today a public relations specialist, Mr. Puff (Robert Stanton) to stage a rehearsal of his recently written, ludicrous play, telling him that Sheridan himself will be in the audience. This is straight out farce with no subtlety about it, so the bits of physical humor fit right in.
I think plays about the theatre (and films about film-making) run the risk of slipping into self-indulgent naval gazing but these two avoid that largely because they aim to entertain with Sheridan’s play not taking itself too seriously and Mr. Stoppard’s not taking itself seriously at all.
The plays are being staged through February 14, 2016.