OK, now listen to me. If you get a chance to see an Anonymous Theater production, GO. I wish I could tell you all about it and at the end post a link to information about other performances, but this was a one-night-only affair. All I'm going to say is, be on the lookout for the next. I have just had the most fun I've had in a long time.
Tom Stoppard's The Real Inspector Hound is such good material, you kind of can't go wrong, but couple it with Anonymous Theater, and you add an extra layer of serious fun. If you don't already know what it is, an Anonymous Theater production is staged entirely with the actors (as you can probably figure out from the name) anonymous. This means not only does the audience not know who the actors are as they sit right there in the seats until their cues, but the actors themselves don't know who they're playing against. All the rehearsals are performed one-on-one with the director. So by the time the cast comes together for the one-night-only performance, it's just as fresh and new to them as it is to you.
Director Darius Pierce (who's also a fantastic and well-known Portland comedic actor) started things off with some remarks and some thank yous, an explanation of Anonymous Theater for any uninitiated, and when he was done speaking I leaned over to my friend and date for the evening and said, "His talk alone is worth the price of admission." Already we were laughing more than you do watching some comedies.
Then the show started. A darkened theater, the sound of birds, and suddenly out of the audience, up pops our first actor. The applause turns to laughter as she goes running down the side of the theater to take her place on stage.
Along with The Real Inspector Hound, we were treated to the ten-minute play On the Porch One Crisp Spring Morning, by Alex Dremann. You think maybe the extra ten-minute play is going to be a throwaway. Oh, but contraire.* It was a hilarious mini-drama between a mother and daughter who happen to be... spoiler alert... spoiler alert... double agents. Or triple agents. Maybe. Or maybe not. It's one perfectly convoluted thing after another, and the two women in the piece (sadly, I can't remember their names, and of course the names are not on the program!) played it with a lovely mix of energetic rage and subtlety. My date for the evening is a writer who has just finished a gorgeous memoir that deals a lot with her own very odd mother, and it was such fun to hear her laughing with relish through the whole piece.
Seriously, when The Real Inspector Hound began, I was worried that it wouldn't be as funny as On the Porch. But the whole evening was smart, clever writing and laughs all the way through. And as I said before, the Anonymous part of it adds a lovely extra layer of energy. I was actually nervous as the lights dimmed and we waited for the first actor to pop up, as if it might turn out to be me. Then, with every actor who jumped up in his or her seat and started running to the stage, I just felt more and more energized.
The way the actors all ran down the aisles, grabbing their props from tables at the base of the stage as they went, added to the liveliness of an already fast-paced, lively play. At times the actors had some fun with the Anonymous-Theater-ness of it all (for instance the housekeeper finding that the apron she'd just picked up from the prop table didn't fit, and finally chucking the thing), and you were never sure if these moments were improvisations or moves planned out between actor and director. Here and there, the actors, witnessing the show fresh, couldn't keep from smiling, themselves.
Stand-outs among the actors. For me, they were... well, unfortunately, again, I can't remember any of the names that were announced at the end of the show (partly because the audience was applauding so vigorously I couldn't always hear). The woman who played Mrs. Drudge. Beautiful timing, sharp-as-a-tack delivery. And the guy who played Simon Gascoyne. Fabulous, particular physical comedian. I so enjoyed watching him that I was very disappointed when he... um, spoiler alert... died.
Or... spoiler alert... the first of him died.
You see, halfway through the show... OK, wait. I suppose I should explain some things first. The Real Inspector Hound is a play-within-a-play kind of play. At the beginning, you're introduced to two theater critics sitting in an audience. You get a bit of their story as they wait for their show to start and then the play, a murder mystery, starts to unfold in front of... both you and the critics watching from their seats at the side of the stage. Hilarity ensues - or continues to ensue... it never stops ensuing - and in a crazy, but beautifully orchestrated twist that would take entirely too long to explain, halfway through the show, the play-within-a-play starts over from the beginning as one of the critics gets pulled into the production. He is now Simon Gascoyne. The murder mystery goes forward a second time with this new Simon.
What audacity, to stage most of an entire play twice in one show. And how fascinating. The Real Inspector Hound is a player's play. An actor's delight, especially when the actors are witnessing the thing fresh, themselves. How interesting to watch two completely talented, completely different actors play the same part.
Actors playing actors, actors playing theater critics playing actors, critics discussing tropes and tropes discussing the world, love, mystery and murder. Layer upon layer. And as I said: especially when produced by Anonymous Theater. Not only is it a play within a play, but it's like an Anonymous Theater within an Anonymous Theater. I started to fall down a laughing vortex, a rip in the space-theater continuum. Here I was, a blogger playing a theater critic, Watching and laughing and trying to find meaning while the audience (and I) laughed at the theater critics trying to find meaning. And the meaning was nothing more than (and most importantly nothing less than) an evening of uproarious laughter, shared with a theater full of people and a good friend. The music of her laughing all tangled up with mine all tangled up with everyone else. There's nothing better.
For more information on Anonymous Theater, check out their website here.
*Yes, I know the phrase isn't actually, "oh, but contraire." It's a family thing.