Friday, October 5, 2012

'ROPE" from Pittsburgh Playhouse

"ROPE" by Patrick Hamilton is a suspense drama where apathetic intellect meets an unthinkable action when two undergraduate lovers kill a fellow co-ed and plan a pompous dinner party around the concealed corpse. And yes, it is basis of the same-titled Hitchcock film.

The production currently playing at Pittsburgh Playhouse begins with an expert use of darkness, shadows and natural light. It's not often that one sees the technical aspects of theatre use so simply with such stunning effect. Lamps provide lamplight, open doors flood with hallway light, dimmers are controlled by actors and work the way lights do in your own home - only the set by Gianni Downs belongs on a Better Homes & Garden catalogue.

The skill seen in director Elmore James's staging of the first ten minutes prepares everyone for a night of fantastic, complete and polished theatre. Nicholas J. Browne as Charles Grinaldo is the perpetrator of the unseen but much-discussed crime, and John Steffenauer is his Argentinian boyfriend who helped in the motiveless murder of their fellow student. Browne appears to hold all the cards as the ever charming, cool-headed mastermind and the tension between his hand pulling the strings and Steffenauer's unraveling counterpart adds so much to the show.

On the other side of the chessboard, the reluctant and almost unrecognizable as a hero Rupert Cadell is played with stylish and linguistic mastery by Ryan K. Witt. Witt manages to make the purposefully unlikable, jaded character rise to the challenge, become the hand of justice which the character does not even believe exists in the start of the play. Witt also manages the character's verbal gymnastics, one-liners and mocks with aplomb.  

In fact, every character is well-defined in the show. Some have less than 20 lines, some are onstage for less than 20 minutes, but all leave a real, often empathetic imprint on the mind of the audience. The stellar cast includes: Rebecca Knowles as Leila Arden, Kevin Daniel O'Leary as Sabot, Sean Sears as Professor Jonathan and Jennifer Tober as Mrs. Deben.

While many plays try to stuff as many variations of action and events that can possibly fit,  what is fascinating about "ROPE" is the way the simply-constructed story unfolds. We see the detective become interested and disinterested in the case (largely dependent on how much or what he drinks), leading the audience - who always knows where the body is - to constantly be waiting for the excitement of the reveal or the horror of the unreveal - both of which seem constantly inevitable.

Tickets for "ROPE" can be purchased here:

- The Eponymous Theatre Critic finds leopard print in a variety of colors and styles, from electric blue to radioactive pink to verisimilitude lime green. From carpeting to bathrobes, leopard print in available at any time, day or night.    

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