Front Row Center – January 2020

Front Row Center

By Michael Warren

After Magritte and The Real Inspector Hound

By Tom Stoppard
Directed by Randy Warren

front row


These two one-act plays were created by Tom Stoppard in 1970, and were first performed in the Green Banana Restaurant at the Ambiance Lunch-hour Theatre Club in London. They are an exercise in wordplay and absurdism, and of illusion versus reality, or different versions of perceived reality. Rene Magritte had recently died, and these plays were a sort of tribute to his surrealist paintings. They are also crazily funny in a Monty Python style of humor.

After a short educational video featuring some of Magritte’s work, the curtain rises on a bizarre scene. The furniture is pushed back against the front door, a man is standing on a table trying to fix a lamp which is on a counterbalance with a bowl of fruit, while a woman crawls on the floor and an old woman is lying on an ironing board. And a policeman is outside looking through the window.

All this is explained in the next half-hour, so it’s a visual joke to which the author adds a series of comical misunderstandings. Stan Rawson plays “Harris” the husband with appropriate dismay, while Donna Burroughs is excellent as the strident “Thelma.” The senile mother, who likes to practice on the tuba, is squawked by Beede Satterthwaite. Later the police arrive, in the shape of “Inspector Foot” who has his own theories as to a crime that may have taken place. Brian Fuqua marches around the stage and shouts his lines at breakneck speed. It’s all very confusing, and I confess that I had to consult Google to figure it out.

The Real Inspector Hound is a lot easier to understand and to enjoy. It’s simply a parody of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap. An isolated country manor, phone lines cut, someone in the room is a murderer, etc.. Stoppard adds some further ingredients – there’s a body on the floor, completely ignored for most of the play, and there are two pretentious critics “Moon” and “Birdboot” who also become involved in the action. In a way the critics are what the play is about, as they make ridiculous comments on each other as well as on the hackneyed whodunit. The country house includes Mark Donaldson as the sinister stranger “Simon,” Allyson DeJong as flighty “Felicity,” Louise Ritchie as the heiress “Cynthia, Lady Muldoon” and Frank Lynch in a wheelchair (but not really disabled) as distant cousin “Magnus.”

Some of the best lines came from Jean Marie Harmon, who played the maid “Drudge” with just the right amount of dark conspiracy. Dave McIntosh played “Inspector Hound” who stumbles on the body and then gets shot for no apparent reason. Brian Fuqua played Moon as a martyr to his unappreciative seniors at the newspaper, while Fred Koesling was Birdboot, who is stuck with a homely wife while lusting after Felicity and then Cynthia on stage. The actors had a lot of fun, and the audience responded.

In the Director’s Notes, Randy Warren advises us to keep our ears attuned. It was certainly difficult to hear some of the lines in After Magritte, which is a pity because the dialogue is the play. I congratulate the director and all the actors for what must have been a challenging experience. Suki O’Brian was Assistant Director, while Jean Marie Harmon was Production Stage Manager, ably assisted by Donna Burroughs and Beede Satterthwaite for the second play.

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