My powers of description, which I flatter myself are above average, have met their match in the Playhouse REP production of Rope. I have absolutely no idea what to say.
A 1929 British play by Patrick Hamilton suggested by the Leopold & Loeb case, Rope tells the heartwarming tale of two men who kill a friend for the simple adventure of it, and then serve dinner on the chest in which his body is hidden. The play is remembered, if at all, because Hitchcock turned it into a film shot as one continuous take.
So here comes Rep director Elmore James, who, in series of bizarre choices, exhumes this script from where it has lain blameless for decades.
The play creaks with age. The exposition scenes have all the shimmer of a PowerPoint presentation, and Hamilton's addition of a Nietzsche-spouting member of the demimonde is so ludicrous as to be barely credible.
Then James resets it in modern-day Boston — but a Boston on a planet with which I am unfamiliar. He hasn't touched the melodrama of the plot or drained the purple prose, but there are Robert Mapplethorpe photos on the wall and people talk about Jessica Fletcher ... when they're not saying things like: "I mayn't" and "For 'tis the only one."
Boston? 2012? Really? (If this is the effect the stodgy Mitt Romney had on a people as governor, imagine what he'd do as president.) Meanwhile the servant is now a rent boy in all black, which doesn't go with the blue velvet suit worn by one of the killers.
And just to make it weirder, James directs his actors as if they're in an Edwardian soap opera. The amount of posing and posturing — not to mention the profusion of BBC British accents — is jaw-dropping. Some handle it better than others: John Steffenauer as the lead killer pulls off his Noel Coward-meets-Bette Davis psychopath, but why did James want that? At least Steffenauer doesn't meet the fate of poor Jaron Frand as a "Tennis, anyone?" sort of juvenile lead ... here directed as a giggling Cecily in The Importance of Being Earnest. And Ryan K. Witt has to play Tallulah Bankhead playing Hercule Poirot playing ...
I give up.