‘The Real Inspector Hound’ passes inspection

Despite minor hiccups, the theatre department once again delivers

By Kristina Markulin

Before the theater lights went down, actors began to take stage, but most of the crowd didn’t notice. The audience for “The Real Inspector Hound” continued to mill about when the fake audience for the play within “The Real Inspector Hound” began to take their seats. “Hound” is full of misdirection and side details like this, which elevates the comedy of this show.

“The Real Inspector Hound” is the most recent production of Cleveland State University’s Department of Theatre and Dance. The play, written by Tom Stoppard, is about two critics reviewing a murder mystery play. They interject during the show, giving their own critiques on what is best described as a self-aware parody of British murder mysteries. 

It’s a show worth going into as blind as possible. Its mysteries are better left unsaid, much like the mystery unfurling in the whodunit onstage. Knowing too much will put a damper on the experience. 

The two critics Moon (Sullivan Ratcliff) and Birdboot (Jarrod Vullo) bounce off each other incredibly well. Moon’s bitter analysis contrasts well with the emotional disposition of Birdboot. Without giving too much away, how the two characters interact with the murder mystery unfolding before them is a truly smart character study of both men. 

The absurd, dry and distinctly British humor blends well with the odd turn the play makes. The show almost feels like a “Twilight Zone” episode written and directed by Monty Python.

The other characters were just as enjoyable. The melodrama dripped off the characters onstage, elevated them from basic archetypes to enjoyable farces. The performances of the actors really sells these characters. They each felt charming in their absurdity, making great parodies of common mystery archetypes. 

Some notable standouts were the mysterious Major Magnus Muldoon (Aaron J. Levigne), the fiery Felicity Cunningham (Erin Ashdown), and the suave Simon Gascoyne (Jaren Thomas Hodgson), but everyone was always a delight, regardless of their character’s archetype.

The set design was fantastic. Director Russ Borski succeeded in bringing the audience close to the action. From the fake audience entering through the front doors of the Outcalt to the bumped-out, highly-detailed box set, to the borderline fourth-wall breaking acting, this play builds itself a rapport with the audience without directly addressing them. The rest of the production was just as nice, especially the costuming.

However, there were some hiccups. Sometimes, the actors’ British accents would falter, and the melodrama can become a bit much. It can be abrasive to see overreaction after overreaction, especially if the audience is not used to it. Every joke’s landing isn’t as smooth as it should be. But the overall package is still a quality one, with no dull moment in the theater.

Even with its flaws, “The Real Inspector Hound” is a well-produced comedy that excels at what it aims to achieve. It’s incredibly enjoyable and fun — especially for fans of British humor — but has a bit of underlying darkness that makes this play more than a simple farce. 

“The Real Inspector Hound’ does have something to say, but spoiling its message would truly be a crime.

Grade: A-