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THEATER REVIEW

Revival of 'Sleuth' Struggles to Find a Refreshing Angle

September 24, 1996|DON SHIRLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Let's hope the Pasadena Playhouse saves production money by doing the umpteenth production of Anthony Shaffer's "Sleuth"--with its very small cast. No other reason for this revival is easy to detect.

The surprises are a big part of the fun of "Sleuth," so not many people who remember the plot are likely to turn out for it. Is a younger generation that hasn't seen "Sleuth" going to show up when its members can rent the movie--starring Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine--for a lot less money? Don't count on it.

*

This "Sleuth," staged by Alan Bailey, features Ian Ogilvy as Andrew Wyke, the detective novelist who invites neighbor Milo Tindle to his English country house for drinks and for drama. The drama stems from the fact that Tindle is having an affair with Wyke's wife. But Wyke doesn't seem to mind. He has hatched a scheme that can make them all rich.

Ogilvy, who was last seen in this part of the Southland as Henry Higgins at the Alex, plays arrogant, articulate Englishmen with apparent ease and eloquence. Although he tripped over a couple of Wyke's words on opening night, Ogilvy was born to be suave one moment, sarcastic the next. His sense of style is in his body language as well as his spoken words--watch him wriggle his fingers when he speaks of the "true sparkle of the '30s," in reference to his chosen genre of fiction.

This production's Tindle, Darrell James, had the daunting responsibility of taking over the role a week ago, after Nicholas Guest withdrew to concentrate on a TV series. James was Guest's understudy, so he had learned his lines, and he carries off his assignment with professionalism. But he isn't well cast.

Shaffer created Tindle as the part-Jewish son of an Italian immigrant for a reason--he wanted to demonstrate Wyke's virulent sense of class and anti-immigrant bias. At least to these American eyes and ears, James looks and sounds as if he's simply a blander representative of the same class, more or less, as Wyke's. There is certainly nothing about his appearance that would set off Wyke's second-act tirade about the way Italians look.

So one of the few features of this play that transcends plot is hollow in this production. Of course "Sleuth" fans may say that other aspects also transcend plot--that the play ultimately serves as a warning against shallow games-playing. Here, however, it's an example of shallow games-playing more than a warning against it.

Gary Wissmann designed a stuffy country manor set, but Zoe DuFour's costumes contribute a bit of color and whimsy.

* "Sleuth," Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 5 and 9 p.m.; Sundays, 2 and 7 p.m. Ends Oct. 27. $13.50-$39.50. (800) 233-3123. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.

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