This 1929 melodrama by Patrick Hamilton received a top notch revival by Praxis Theatre Project at Theatre on Three. Although rarely performed, Rope had been made famous by the Alfred Hitchcock film. The play is essentially a dated and over-the-top melodramatic depiction of the Lepold and Lowe case. Although the play is often clunky in its dramaturgy, the production was extremely well-directed, -acted, and -designed.
Rope begins with a dynamic and intriguing dramatic situation. From the dark, we see light coming from the outside lobby and the voices of three men cheerfully having a good time - until we hear that one of these men is being murdered by the other two. Enter Wyndam Brandon (Matthew Bray) and Charles Granillo (David Heckel) dragging the body of their friend, whom they have killed just because they could. They stuff the body in a chest and wait for their party guests to arrive. This after all is a social event!
Hamilton, obviously fascinated by the social implications of the crime, focused more on these implications than the actually kill-for-thrill aspect of that case. The device of having all the action take place around the trunk worked very nicely. Equally effective was how director Courtney Patrick Mitchell played up the homosexuality of the piece without going over the top or becoming offensive. It almost seemed that homosexuality took a back seat to many other things that are wrong with the lovers Brandon and Granillo. Where the play falters, however, is its clunky, exaggerated turns. For instance, Leilas (Kristin Louise Kahle)'s fantasy of their being a dead body in the trunk, the arrival of the parents of the slain boy (Jim Siatkowski and Cynthia Sepe) and Rupert Cadell (Todd Butera)'s putting two and two together by just seeing a concert ticket in Granillo's vest pocket. All these devices seem more manipulations than anything else. These devices make the play seem very dated, and at best the effect is more campy than revelatory.
The performances by the entire cast, which included Jonas Abry as Sabot their manservant and Kevin Townley as Kenneth Raglan, were terrific. The uncredited set was elaborately detailed and hit the right chords in setting a strong sense of period and style. Not enough can be said about Abby Smith's costumes, which were elegant and perfect. The lighting by Michael Abrams brilliantly set dark shadows around the stage, which gave the play an eerieness that was essential. Likewise, along with Martin Miller's sound effects, Abrams's thunderstorm managed to put you right there in the middle of the action.
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Copyright 2000 Andrés J. Wrath