By Patrick Hamilton
Directed by Courtney Patrick Mitchell
Praxis Theatre Project
Theatre on Three
432 West 42nd Street, 3rd floor (769-8153)
Equity showcase (closes Sept. 29)
Review by Doug DeVita

Patrick Hamilton's late-'20s thriller Rope, as written, is a creaky, over-plotted and -written curiosity whose mind-blowing new production from Praxis Theatre obliterated the play's inherent weaknesses by the sheer force of its slyly direct approach to the material.

Indeed, director Courtney Patrick Mitchell and his terrific cast had such fun with the melodramatic conventions of the piece that the evening became irresistibly entertaining, especially in the performances of the three leads, Matthew Bray and David Heckel, as Wyndham Brandon and Charles Granillo, callow collegians who murder a fellow student for the sheer cold-blooded fun of it, and Todd Butera as their suspiciously observant friend Rupert Cadell. Watching Butera playing joyous cat-and-mouse with Bray and Heckel, his tongue firmly in cheek and mercifully without the holier-than-thou sanctimony that others have invested in this role, was one of those experiences that can pitch an audience to the edge of their seats in thrilled delight.

Michael Abram's predominantly blue, orange, and turquoise-gelled lighting went far to establish an unsettling, creepy mood; likewise, Butera's well-appointed drawing room set effectively evoked the overstuffed dowdiness of London society, circa 1927, as did Abby Smith's dark-toned period costumes.

If there was one thing that compromised the overall effectiveness of the evening, it was the decision to play the work in one very long first act, break for a ten-minute intermission, and then resume for a brief 20 minutes. This act break effectively broke what had been a steadily rising line of tension; by the time the audience was back into the groove after intermission, the show was over.

Never the less, this production made for a sensationally entertaining evening, the type of production that could find commercial success if it were to be discovered and handled by the right producers.

(Also featuring Jonas Abry, Cynthia Sepe, Tatijana Shoan, Jim Siatkowski, and Kevin Townley.)

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Sets: 2
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2001 Doug DeVita