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Murder Romp

by B.A. Nilsson on October 24, 2013

Accomplice
By Rupert Holmes, directed by Stephen Rothman, Shakespeare & Company, through Nov. 10

 

So maybe the guy isn’t who we—ah! I see. I should have guessed it. And that’s because she was wishing all along that he’d—wait. Maybe not. Because now she’s—shit. Didn’t see that coming.

There’s good reason that director Stephen Rothman is offering a free dinner to anyone who, without prior knowledge of this piece, can successfully declare at intermission how Act 2 is going to end: There’s no way in hell to guess it.

Yet clues are staring at you as obviously as words on this page.

Asprey and Aspenlieder in Accomplice, photo by Enrico Spada

Dorping Mill is close enough to London to allow a commute, but the cottage in which Accomplice unfolds has no near neighbors. No one to help. No one to hear you. This is where Derek and Janet have conveniently rusticated themselves, although Derek’s business partner, John, and his (possibly) round-heeled wife, Melinda, are expected momentarily.

There’s just enough time to attempt a murder. After all, Janet will inherit the business from Derek. Ditto Melinda from John. But who wants whom out of the way? And why?

But there will be a murder. Perhaps from a poisoned drink, giving the playwright the opportunity to pull the old “chalice from the palace” routine. Perhaps it’s a knife or noose. There’s a dry sense of humor at loose in this piece, and just when you think you’ve second-guessed how that life will be taken, it gets dryer.

Shakespeare & Company’s production of Accomplice is stylish and fun-filled and, unsurprisingly, brilliantly acted, with longtime company member Elizabeth Aspenlieder and Jason Asprey as a couple whose marriage is threatened by—let’s just say a bounty of marriage-threatening things.

Annie Considine goes from Act 1 enigma to an Act 2 dynamo, in ways I can’t possibly reveal. In ways even she has difficulty revealing. And Josh Aaron McCabe, stepping in for an indisposed Jonathan Croy, demonstrated that there’s no reason to be disappointed when an understudy like him goes on.

Proving how difficult it is to top Sleuth and Deathtrap, Rupert Holmes steered his 1990 comedy-thriller Accomplice into a more music-hall direction, in which his characters are made to comment on themselves and their situations. It’s self-referentially ironic at first, but soon it all but obliterates the fourth wall.

We had inklings of this in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Holmes’ first big stage success. Accomplice, with no novel predecessor, allows Holmes to indulge both the best of his jokes and the worst of his indulgences. When the jokes don’t work—and many of them don’t—there’s a lumbering quality that even the best line-reading can’t completely disguise.

And the show ultimately suffers from one contrivance too many, although I was assured by the couple of audience members I quizzed that they were taken in completely. Even if I wasn’t prepared to go that distance, my enjoyment never flagged.

Patrick Brennan designed an attractive, functional set that works on many levels, while Ian Sturges Milliken composed music that sets both the emotional tenor of the piece and the time period—as it unfolds, we learn that it’s set in the ’70s. And I must salute production manager Thomas L. Rindge, who took quick, effective care of a problem that cropped up the night I saw the show.

Although the show starts out as a straightforward spoof, it soon takes on amusement-park-ride momentum, with exciting, dizzying twists and turns.

You’re obviously under a restriction: Even though Holmes eventually abandons conventional construction, overly maniacal plotting litters its clues everywhere.

Can you keep it secret? Even more to the point, can you pick up on those clues, especially just before the end of the piece? I wish you luck.