The only thing that prevents Accomplice from careening into farcical overdrive is the playwright's penchant for backtracking over every plot twist and turn. A satirical hybrid that mixes the backstage comedy of Noises Off with the thriller instincts of Deathtrap, Rupert Holmes's offbeat spoof is the final production of the season for Conundrum State Productions, which earlier this year floundered in its attempts to stage a pair of similarly stylized plays. This time around, though, the group's efforts prove more successful. Although the two-and-a-quarter-hour Accomplice drags in places where it should hum with cheeky precision, director Scott Gibson and company manage to get quite a charge out of Holmes's bombshell collection.
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These include at least four major (and countless minor) levels of deceit, both performance- and plot-wise; well-executed special effects that continually walk a fine line between real and simulated violence; a steady sprinkling of sexual innuendo and theatrical in-jokes, some flat and others devilishly ribald; endless permutations on role-playing situations; plenty of tried-and-true mystery-play shtick centered around alcoholic drinks, vials of poison and trays of cheesy party food; and even a quasi-Pirandellian discussion about dramatic truth and illusion.
The quadruple-edged hijinks take place on (and sometimes off) an attractive setting that represents the English moorland cottage of Derek and Janet Taylor, a filthy rich, veddy British couple who, we soon learn, are engaged in a murderous game of mutual betrayal. In due time, we're introduced to their guests for the evening, an innocuous-looking duo from London who figure more significantly in the Taylors' affairs than anyone, including the audience, expects.
Presented by Conundrum State Productions
Oriental Theatre, 4335 West 44th Avenue
Through June 10
Once the actors establish the fact that the characters they're playing have more layers of identity than are found in the most convoluted of mysteries, their antics start to become enjoyable discoveries rather than annoying quirks. Especially when the tables are turned for what seems like the umpteenth time. Without giving away anything too specific, Kristine Ryker is engaging as a bored housewife whose acting abilities range from modestly conversational to grandly melodramatic. As her husband (and part-time director-in-crime), J. Heston Gray exudes an air of off-the-cuff charm that effectively masks his comedic deviousness. Susan Lyles earns a few (cheap) laughs as a lingerie-clad actress who stands up for her artistic ethics by declaring, "You can't make me bare my breasts and then reject them; I just got out of Dianetics!" And Ron Mediatore ably negotiates the vast territory he's asked to cover as supportive husband and understanding colleague.
Despite some glitches here and there, and a script that's at least twenty minutes too long, the effort is a welcome sign that the fledgling troupe has found its footing. Unlike the clever surprises that pop up in Holmes's play, the dramatic equivalent of a banana peel appears to be nowhere on the horizon.