Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Rope—Bag & Baggage Theatre—Hillsboro, OR


The Murder Game

This very dark comedy is written by Patrick Hamilton and directed by Rusty Tennant.  It is playing at their space at the Venetian Theatre, 253 E. Main St., in Hillsboro.  (Soon they will be moving into their own space at 350 E. Main St.)!  The show is performing through November 1st.  For more information, go to their site at www.bagnbaggage.org

First a bit of history about the type of murderers that are depicted here (no, I’m not giving anything away, as it’s revealed at the very beginning of the play).  The two killers here are Sociopaths, essentially exhibiting psychotic, anti-social behavior with no remorse…basically, having no conscience and no compassion for others.  This story is loosely based on the Leopold/Loeb murderers of almost a hundred years ago.  There was a film, Compulsion (with Bradford Dillman and Dean Stockwell as the killers), about the trial.

They also have a striking resemblance to the killers of the mid-west of a half century ago in which Capote wrote his famous, In Cold Blood.  Another commonality is that one is the manipulator, the stronger, and the other, the follower (or disciple).  It is argued that without the union of these two beings, in which essentially a third one is “created,” individually they wouldn’t have murdered anyone.  And they usually seek to get caught, so they can brag about it, as Vanity is part of the driving force behind it.  Interesting theory.

In Hitchcock’s film, it is simply played as a suspense story in New York City, with his gimmick of doing a series of long takes to tell it.  In this presentation, it is the original play taking place in England and has considerably more humor, albeit dark, than his film.  And, most notably, our protagonist is outwardly Gay (as are the killers, although a tad bit more subdued), something that was verboten at the time in most societies, although Noel Coward and Oscar Wilde certainly broke the ice in England, but not without consequences.

So, as to the story, a cocktail party is being planned at the home of Granillo (Nathan Dunkin) and Brandon (Trevor Jackson), students at the University, in which, at least outwardly, it is to share some rare books with the famous and stodgy, Sir Johnstone (Philip Rudolph).  (Side note, his son is the murder victim in the locked chest, prominently displayed.)  Along for the ride is his silly sister, Mrs. Debenham (Victoria Blake).  Others on the guest list are the exuberant, Raglan (Joel Patrick Durham), another student, and a ditzy friend, Leila (Signe Larsen).  There is also the servant, the mysterious, Sabot (Alec Lugo).  But the main attraction for them is the foppish intellectual, Rupert (Michael Tuefel), who they feel might agree and applaud the idea of their “thrill kill.”

Most of the dialogue of the play amongst the party guests is simply “window-dressing” for the main purpose, which is to see how, or if, Rupert is going to discover the crime.  Hints and bits of business are dropped and one, accidentally dropped (in the case of Leopold/Loeb, it was a pair of eyeglasses of one of the killers, which was found at the scene), will rouse his suspicions to the heights.  Rupert is a curious, nosy and a rather arrogant individual and deductive in the way Sherlock Holmes is, picking up small, seemingly inconsequential, bits of news and inserting them into a larger puzzle.

There are moments in the story which have long pauses, something not often done in a play, as you see Rupert putting the pieces together in his mind, and it works wonderfully.  This is unlike most TV detecting shows where everybody has figured out the plot almost instantly.  There is also a fight scene (staged, I’m sure, by Tennant) that is also quite impressive.  And the final confrontation is not only intellectually stimulating but powerfully delivered by Brandon and Rupert.  All in all, an exciting experience and very appropriate for the Halloween Season!

Tennant has done an amazing job of putting this production together, as it’s a tale that slowly creeps up on you, with low lighting at times and the persistent clock ticking in the background and a stormy night to add spookiness to the atmosphere of the proceedings.  He has also chosen his cast well, especially Tuefel as Rupert and Jackson as Brandon.  Their final battle of the wits is an edge-of-the-seat event.  Tennant is always an asset to a production, whether it’s as a director, designer, actor or fight choreographer and he is exactly the right choice for this play!

Tuefel is brilliant as the protagonist.  His timing, physical movement, voice and overall demeanor are exactly right for the part and very well enacted.  He is so convincing in the part, I couldn’t imagine anyone else doing it.  This is someone I hope to see more of onstage.  Jackson, as Brandon, the main antagonist, is also excellent.  His manipulation of his partner, Granillo, is brutal at times, then subtle, and  quite frightening to observe.  He exhibits the power and charm of a Ted Bundy-type and the intellect of a Capt. Nemo-type.  Quite a complex character and very well played.

I recommend this play.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.