Theater Review: EXPLiCIT’s The Real Inspector Hound

Reality is usually stranger than fiction. As a member of the Generation “Zoomer,” I habitually inundate my hopelessly instant gratification addicted brain with an astonishing amount of content, which means it’s exceedingly difficult to surprise me. So when I entered Dabney Lounge on Friday night, utterly and thoroughly burned out after a long day of frantically grinding a problem set (AND scrambling to make this issue of the Tech happen), I wasn’t expecting much from the experience. And I was really not expecting to be surprised.

Yes, EXPLiCIT’s production of British playwright Tom Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound, directed by Miranda Stewart, was one of the most interesting stories I’ve experienced IN MY LIFE! Throughout the entire play, my expectations, predictions, and preconceptions were continuously yanked from my hands and thrown into a wood chipper.

I was fascinated to learn that Hound was written in the early 1960s. I truly consider its cerebral, absurdist humor, which percolates deep beyond the dialogue down to the very structure of the play (and really, the human condition), to be one of the summits in the range of contemporary theatre. I shall not attempt to refrain from invoking the names of… Kafka; Shakespeare; Cranor and Fink; Rhett and Link.

Being a huge fan of the aforementioned Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink’s Welcome to Night Vale, a fiction podcast with an iconic absurdist aesthetic derived from the New York Neo-Futurist theater troupe, I was immediately drawn in by Hound’s similarly-spirited oratorical motifs and recurring jokes. Additionally delightful was the comically forced yet very intentional “telling-not-showing” exposition through the dialogue of Inspector Hound (Marcin Kurowski), Mrs. Drudge (Cara King), and Simon Gascoyne (Matthew Torres), as well as the parallel soliloquies of the theater critics Moon (Solvin Sigurdson) and Birdboot (Max Gorbachev), which all seemed to scrape and tear at the shambling facade that remained of the fourth wall. Even the voice in the radio (Rich Abbott) gained an air of self-awareness and joined in the absurdity, which struck me as funnily Nightvaleian. In fact, I have no doubt that the pioneers of absurdist theater precisely like Stoppard’s Hound had a direct influence on the likes of the Neo-Futurists, and subsequently Welcome to Night Vale.

Dabney Lounge was the perfect venue, and its glowing gold and brown backdrop really allowed costume designer Linda Muggeridge’s phenomenal savvy to come into its own. The set design was very effectively executed: it enabled the players to manipulate time as though it were as malleable as space, and the space as though it were as fluid and continuous as time. The card game scenes, already a masterful stroke of dialogue on paper, were cast into four dimensions as the audience realized the second game was a mirror image of the first – spatially, temporally, narratologically, and oratorically. Master cardsharps Cynthia Muldoon (Sahangi Dassanayake), Felicity Cunningham (Arabella Camunez), and Magnus Muldoon (Eitan Levin) truly brought the scenes to life, as their increasingly tense and chaotic poker hands rapidly surpassed mere metaphor status and established themselves as perhaps the most straightforward exposition of what was really going on. Even and especially toward the end when they just start yelling “BINGO!” and throwing cards at each other.

But where it really got interesting was around the 30-minute mark, because that’s when the play lit the gas on the “whodunit” part. And gaslight it did. With their signature theatrical flourishes laced with double-entendre (at least!), Moon and Birdboot began littering the narrative with red herrings. (“It’s Magnus a mile off!” “What’s Magnus a mile off?” “If we knew that, we wouldn’t be here.”) Chekhov’s Gun be damned—or so it seemed at first.

I won’t attempt much analysis beyond this point because, even after having watched it all three nights, I don’t have many coherent thoughts about the second half of the play. At some points it seemed that the actors had given up acting altogether. I suspect this is a common experience among the audience; again, wood chipper. But for me at least, the perpetual state of being confused, of just knowing there’s a bigger structure of truth out there, of craning my neck in hopes of catching another clue or perspective, and all the while laughing aloud at the absurdity of it all – that’s what keeps me coming back for more. And that goes for EXPLiCIT, Hound, theater, and life in general.

In summary, The Real Inspector Hound is a play that concerns itself with the nature of identity. Tom Stoppard has given us… the human condition. And in their first production since 2021, EXPLiCIT has taken it and created a real situation, in an evening that will most surely make the angels weep. I truly find the performance to be A SUMMIT IN THE RANGE OF CONTEMPORARY THEATRE. Yes, I believe we are entitled to ask: WHERE IS GOD?