Sleuth – A One-Man Play with Two Actors

Warning: This review may contain spoilers.

Sleuth’s tag line is “think of the perfect crime… then go one step further.” And while not necessarily a crime in the purest sense, John L. Moore’s performance stole the show, overwhelming his co-star, in a play about love, revenge, and the games we play.

Moore’s performance and the story itself are the two defining elements of this entertaining, but flawed, production. The story, centered around two men who have a relationship with one woman—a woman never seen or heard from—deals with the meeting and aftermath of the meeting between the two principals: Andrew Wyke (Moore), a mystery writer and the man seemingly gleefully divorcing the woman in question; and Milo Tindale (Shawn Dyson), the younger paramour who is planning a future with Wyke’s wife—one that he may not be able to afford.

Wyke concocts a plan that would ensure that he is rid of his wife and that Tindale obtains the resources needed to keep her in the lifestyle to which she’s grown accustomed. Needless to say, not everything is as it appears and Sleuth, which has also been directly adapted into two feature films and inspired a third, jumps from twist to turn and back again.

In the director’s notes, Grunté states that “the sub text [sic] is a study of sexual conflict and jealousy while painting a psychological portrait of both of the characters.” Unfortunately, that’s only half true. Moore’s depiction of Wyke is enthralling, ranging from manic bombast to measured contemplation. There’s a range and diversity to his performance that is enchanting and serves to be the beating heart of this play.

However, Dyson’s portrayal of Tindale has none of those layers and very little depth. There’s a stiffness of movement that’s compounded by a flatness of delivery. Unfortunately, the monotone nature of Dyson’s performance is only amplified by the manic dynamism of Moore’s portrayal. Add some stumbling over lines and you’re left hoping that this is a case of opening-night jitters that may be alleviated with subsequent performances.

Overall, the set decoration and production were charming. However there were some issues and continuity errors that served to sever one’s complete investment in the play. For example, though Rubik’s Cube was invented in 1974 (and we’re generously going to allow that the play takes place during that time frame, despite a specific reference to 1970), it did not rise to prominence until the early 1980s. For it to have a position of prominence in the set was egregious enough; it’s an error that’s magnified by its total irrelevance to the play. Other items, like Dyson’s running shoes with a suit combination and prominent modern Reebok-branded half-socks could be simply fixed and show a lack of attention to detail. And some terrible facial hair makeup effects meant that disbelief needed to be suspended beyond all reasonable expectation as part of the plot progression. In addition, the sound cues were not supportive of the gravitas of the moments—with gunfire being particularly underwhelming.

That said, the story rose above the challenges, propelled largely by Moore’s entertaining performance. It is a comedy with dramatic elements, but it never rises to the psychological examination that’s alluded to by the director. It’s a pleasant play that entertains in spite of its flaws.