Peter Shaffer’s Sleuth premiered at the Music Box Theatre in New York in 1970 and closed nearly three years later after 1,222 performances. While it was still running in New York, the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco produced it with Ken Ruta and Peter Donat in the leads. I saw that production when I was a student there and it knocked me out. The virtuosity of the players was stunning to me, and the climax and dénoument was totally, I mean totally unpredictable. This lean, durable script has been turned into movies twice, the first one, in 1972, starred Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine.
The play is a tight mystery/comedy /thriller. A famous writer of detective novels, Andrew Wyke (Richard Perloff), an insufferable, affected snob, invites his wandering wife’s lover, Milo Tindle (Bryson James Allman) to his country home. Wyke, smooth talking and vindictive, condescends to Milo, the travel agent son of an Italian immigrant. An avid player of games, the author plies the younger man with whiskey and lures him into a hair-brained scheme to fake a jewel theft while dressed as a clown. The tangled web woven in the first act leads to deadly serious gamesmanship in the second.
The lead players are excellent, drawing the audience in with tight verbiage and rapid repartée. Richard Perloff is handsome, suave, debonair and vain in his smoking jacket as he banters with Milo. Mr. Allman’s chiseled face and bland expression hide a smoldering pride, as their encounter, wickedly funny to a point, turns remorselessly serious.
With the virtue of an excellent cast, Little Fish Theatre has mounted a commendable production, ably directed by James Rice. Their small theatre’s limited space boasts an attractive set by designer Bob Manning, lit by Stacey Abrams, that does very credible double duty in rep with the recently opened Domestic Tranquility. Costumes by Marlee Delia are fine, reinforcing class and character.
Sleuth runs through March 31 at Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre Street, San Pedro.