Thrills aren’t easy to come by especially in live theater. Unlike film or television, where the use of editing and camera angles along with a foreboding soundtrack can be used to ratchet up the tension, live theater has to rely only on what’s on stage.
There’s no way to fix a lack of suspense on stage. It’s all on the shoulders of actors and directors to figure out a way to start a slow burn for an audience that will eventually boil over by the final scene.
Vintage’s current run of “Sleuth,” one of the most successful non-musicals ever to appear on Broadway, is a show that just can’t seem to find a way to turn the heat up and create a real sense of urgency or tension. Despite solid performances and the clever use of some red herrings even before the show starts, the show never seems to find a way to create a sense of urgency that is needed to make ache for answers.
“Sleuth” tells the story of Andrew Wyke, a British crime novelist whose love for his work and characters has infected his life in the most alarming way, and Milo Tindle, a struggling travel agent who also happens to be having an affair with Wyke’s wife. The play centers around a meeting between the two at Andrew’s house, where the cuckolded husband has invited his rival for a drink and a proposition: Steal the jewelry out of his house so he can collect the insurance money, and Milo can afford to take his wife away and never have her darken his doorstep again.
Everything of course goes awry as it often does in stories involving crime and love. And as the show progresses, and the stakes are raised again and again, both men are faced with the consequences of trying to be the one to laugh last.
Brandon Paler, as Milo, and Mark Rubald, as Andrew, are well paired and bring a total sense of Brittain to the scene. Both actors are up to the task of playing such opposite characters that somehow still share that sense of misplaced masculinity that leads them both to ruin. Rubald especially seems to be relishing every line he’s saying, channeling that sense of entitlement every blue-blooded Englishman character in theater seems to be born with.
But for all that’s good about this production, where it falls flat is in raising the stakes both for the characters and the audience. Without giving anything away of the plot, the second act never seems to find another level for the characters to go to as the stakes for the games being played by all the characters are raised to life and death. Even with quality acting, the tension somehow never seems to get to a higher level than when it started.
Instead of a tension filled evening, “Sleuth” provides an entertaining but somewhat hollow experience that begs the question why it lives on so long.
2.5 stars out of 5
“Sleuth” at the Vintage Theater. Running from now until March 11
Tickets start at $28 for advanced/$32 day of show. Discounted tickets available for seniors and students. For more information, visit www.vintagetheatre.com/sleuth/.