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By Anthony Shaffer

By Josephine Yun | Posted 11/1/2006


By Anthony Shaffer

At the Arena Playhouse through Nov. 12

Love, drama, murder, the fuzz--Sleuth has it all. It's hard to tell who has the upper hand in this comic, suspenseful, surprise-laden murder mystery currently in production at the Arena Playhouse, but as director Randolph Smith says of the play, it's all about playing the game.

Rich mystery novel author Andrew Wyke (the Rev. Walter Jones Jr.) meets modest hairdresser Milo Tindle (Dominic Gladden). Tindle has been seeing Wyke's wife and wants to marry her. "Can you afford to take her off my hands?" asks Wyke, who has his own mistress. Tindle describes "a life of love and simplicity," but Wyke insists that his wife is used to a lavish lifestyle. To help Tindle fit the bill, he unveils an idea. Tindle should rob his house of insured diamonds. He can take them to someone Wyke knows will pay $1 million for them, cash. Tindle affords his love, Wyke is rid of his wife forever--and gets an insurance payout--and everyone's happy.

After a couple of drinks and Wyke's lure of an easy million, Tindle relents. Wyke outfits Tindle in a clown costume, gives him a bag of break-in tools, tells him where to find a ladder, and waits. After Tindle's crash entry, Wyke helps him arrange the crime scene. He sucker-punches Tindle and gamely invites the same on himself, saying it should look like a fight took place. It's all jolly until Wyke pulls out a gun. He turns on and eventually corners the mortified Tindle, informing him: "You are a young man dressed as a clown about to be murdered."

Wyke shoots Tindle, declaring victory. But two days later, police detective Doppler (Heiko Penzell) shows up to investigate Tindle's disappearance--and then, the tables turn.

Jones effusively pulled off a crafty, selfish, self-centered, and ultimately sad Wyke. Shifting between a ditzy writer, ventriloquist, and murder suspect, he has daunting amounts of verbiage to cover, but may do best in slowing down and nailing his lines to save time. Gladden's Tindle was inconsistent, simply honest one moment and ill-humored the next. He smiled brightly at odd times, and was truly believable only when blitzed by Wyke. But Penzell shined terrifically as the wizened, bearded Doppler, sporting a stellar Southern accent, deadpan and impervious to Wyke's blabber, with all the smarts and casual deductions of an in-house Columbo. Sleuth isn't just a whodunit--it's a who-one-ups-it. And the Arena Players successfully engage and entertain with this production, keeping theatergoers on edge with the play's twists and turns.

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