Published in The News Tribune, August 3, 2007
Rupert Holmes’ “Accomplice,” now playing at Harlequin Productions’ State Theater, is one of the strangest plays I’ve ever seen, and one of the most difficult to write about – because the director, ostensibly speaking for the writer, asked theater patrons not to reveal anything about the story.
Of course a reviewer should never let the readers know whodunit, but Harlequin’s plea for complicity, and the very nature of this play, goes far beyond that. Even to mention certain actor or character names would be to give away some of the surprises.
Even before the performance began, there seemed to be something odd about this play. Director Frank Lawler even botched his curtain speech by forgetting to introduce himself. Someone in the audience had to shout out, “Who are you?”
Then he announced that an understudy, Paul del Gatto, would be playing the role of Jon, a role normally played by Gavin Cummins. Even that innocent announcement held an ominous ring.
Jon, the character played by the understudy, was the first character to walk on stage, and he was alone on stage an interminably long time, after starting off with a weak attempt to “break the fourth wall” with humor. Wearing a dreadful 1970s suit, he nonchalantly tossed his keys aside, went to the bar and mixed himself a drink with gestures that seemed simultaneously nervous and arrogant. Then he announced to the audience with a really bad British accent that “they always start like this,” meaning plays of this sort. And then he described to the audience everything he had just done and said.
The setting is the living room of an English country cottage owned by Derek (Peter Cook) and his wife, Janet (Samantha Wykes).
Janet enters, and she and Jon (who we discover is pretending to be Derek) discuss plans to kill Jon. Are you confused yet? Then she tries unsuccessfully to poison Jon, after which they exuberantly make love on the floor under the cover of a rug.
Jon leaves and Derek comes home, and all of the things that happened between Janet and Jon now happen between Janet and Derek, as if the first half of Act I were a rehearsal for the second half.
It is all very British and very upper-class and naughty, with lots and lots of sexual innuendo, an incredible amount of drinking, and – did I mention? – really bad British accents.
None of the characters seems quite real. Jon seems artificially sophisticated and self-assured, Derek is standoffish, and Janet seems to be trying too hard to be sexy. And none of their British accents sounds quite right. Ironically, the only actor who doesn’t have an English accent (at least in Act I) is Wykes, who was born in England.
The last of the four characters, Melinda (Jill Snyder), doesn’t show up until almost the end of Act I. And she doesn’t say a word.
By the time intermission rolled around (and Melinda finally made her strange and silent appearance), I was thoroughly confused. Other than a few clever lines of dialogue, nothing about this play seemed to be up to Harlequin’s high standards. But then, in Act II, everything changed. Things that had made no sense gradually began to come clear and then became muddled again as the twists and turns in this delightfully confusing sex comedy/murder mystery offered surprise after surprise.
At this point, there is really very little else I can tell you without giving away some of the many surprise twists in the plot. As playwright Holmes said, “Even if I told you the truth, I’d be lying.”
I will provide one other tiny hint: There is a play-within-a-play element, and what appears to be bad acting is really good actors playing the part of really bad actors. Cook, Wykes and del Gatto are all convincing as not-very-likeable characters, and Snyder is absolutely hilarious as Melinda, a character I cannot describe in any way without giving away too much.
Publicity for “Accomplice” warns of brief nudity and violence, but both are totally innocuous.
Fans of murder mysteries and British comedy should love this play. Just stick with it through the odd start.
WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through Sept. 15
WHERE: State Theater, 202 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia
TICKETS: $24-$33, rush tickets $12-$15 available half-hour before curtain
INFORMATION: 360-786-0151; www.harlequinproductions.org