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Preview & Review: "Sleuth" at The Carnegie

Wildly successful mystery writer Andrew Wyke invites his wife’s lover – a travel agent, horrors! – to his secluded country house one evening and suggests a plot:  how about they stage a robbery of her jewelry?

What a good idea! Of course things are never quite as they seem and Wyke’s passion for games brings surprise after surprise after surprise. 

Wickedly twisty British thriller Sleuth has been a hit on stage (and screen) since it debuted over 40 years ago. The Carnegie gives it a whirl for three weekends beginning Nov. 7.

Director Greg Procaccino is one of the best theater practitioners about town: as an actor, his many roles include an annual appearance as Marley’s Ghost in Playhouse in the Park’s A Christmas Carol; he’s directed for almost every professional and semi-pro theater in the region; and he’s currently directing and programming the theater at Thomas More College.

Sleuth is suspenseful, ingenious, witty, a London and Broadway hit and a successful film.  “The Brits,” Procaccino says, “invented the genre, found the perfect formula, and kept perfecting it.”

The trick to thrillers, he believes, is “not trying to reinvent the engine. If it is supposed to be funny, let it be funny. If it is true and the characters are real, going through a believable dilemma, it will work.”

Sleuth stars Brent Alan Burington and Rory Sheridan. Burington has performed locally, regionally and nationally; Sheridan has a degree from NYU, international indie theater. Locally he’s appeared at Know Theatre and was the librettist/director of ROKCincy.

Brent Alan Burington, who has performed locally, regionally and nationally plays Andrew Wyke.

They took time out from plotting skullduggery to answer a few questions: 

RCN: Would you go to visit Andrew at his empty house after you'd stolen his wife? (Just asking.)

Burington: I probably shouldn't be answering this, since I play Andrew, but of course I would go, I love it there!  Actually, were I playing Milo, I think I would still go. After all, everyone harbors at least a little curiosity, especially about how the "other half" lives . . .

Sheridan: Oh yeah. The guy's got some great Scotch. It'd be a pity for it to go to waste. 

RCN: what’s your mystery pleasure? Cozy, procedural, forensic? 

Burington: I am a HUGE fan of mysteries.  All kinds.  I started reading Agatha Christie and Conan Doyle while I was in school, and I've read them all multiple times.  I also like historical fiction mysteries, like those that try to solve the Ripper Murders and such. I'm a sucker for good historical details.

Sheridan: I love mysteries. I'm a big fan of procedurals with despicable characters you can sympathize with.

RCN: If you were going to commit a novel worthy murder, how would you do it? Poison? Candelabra? Slippery staircase? Boa constrictor?

Burington: I once saw an old Alfred Hitchcock Presents in which a woman killed her husband by bludgeoning him with a frozen leg of lamb, which she proceeded to cook and then serve to the police when they arrived at the scene. I love that idea!  Frozen meat is hard as rock and would no doubt work well as a blunt object . . . besides, I love to cook. I also like Andrew's idea of an ice dagger. I have actually cut myself on a sharp edge of a piece of ice, so I know that it works, and once the weapon has melted, there is no retrieving it again!

Sheridan: I've given this some thought and I think the best route would be to lure the unsuspecting victim to a remote rural area, shoot him with a firearm registered under someone else's name, dissolve the body using a lye solution, concoct an alibi about how I was on a beach in Italy, and plant circumstantial evidence pegging someone else as the likely culprit. 

RCN: Why would your choice prevent you from ever being suspected, much less caught?

Sheridan: Wait... we're on the record? But you didn't... I'm super excited about my trip to Italy! The last word goes to Procaccino: How do he and the cast keep Sleuth suave and murderous? “Keep calm and think of England.”

REVIEW

The great thing about Sleuth is that, as famous as it was in its day (which was more than 40 years ago), I’ll bet it’s new to a lot of folks who’ll see it in a nifty revival at The Carnegie, continuing through Nov. 22.

What better time for a mystery than when the air takes on an autumnal chill? 

Sleuth winks at the classic British country house mystery, giving a nod to the trappings then going its own merry way. 

It’s quite remarkable how the best British mysteries are ageless. We love visiting the country house, or taking a ride on the Orient Express or traipsing through the Midsummer counties counting bodies.

Sleuth isn’t about a murder with a long line of suspicious suspects. Playwright Anthony Shaffer took a very different country lane.

The house belongs to hugely successful mystery writer (of course it has to be mysteries) Andrew Wyke  (Brent Alan Burlington). He’s made sure the house is empty because he’s invited his wife’s lover Milo Tindle (Rory Sheridan) over for a visit. Wyke, it seems, has concocted an elaborate scheme to have Milo burgle the house and make off with a bundle of jewels, the better to keep Wyke’s wife in the style which she likes to be accustomed.

It would ruin the fun to say more, except to mention that Wyke is a nasty, nasty narcissist who loves to play games and a big part of the fun for the audience is that just when you think you know what the game is – you’re wrong. Again and again and again.

Burlington and Sheridan are great fun and well-matched in the dangerous game their characters play. Lots of credit goes to director Greg Procaccino, who captures the spirit and style of Shaffer’s fabulously theatrical script. 

Wyke’s wood-paneled, book-lined study is exactly what you expect it to be. Sleuth is streamlined in terms of props, and while longtime fans will sigh for lack of the array of games that usually decorate the show’s set, newcomers to the play won’t find something missing. I will say that I don’t believe the hideous landscape on the wall would be allowed inside the house. 

Nicely done.

Sleuth, through Nov. 22, The Carnegie, 1032 Scott Blvd., Covington. 7:30 p.m. Friday & Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets $25, students $18. 859-957-1940 and www.thecarnegie.com.

Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts