IT’S A DETECTIVE AGENCY (AND EVERYONE’S ENGLISH)
nytheatre.com review by Aaron Leichter
As the house doors open to welcome the audience into It’s a Detective
Agency (And Everyone’s English), Elvis Costello croons over the
loudspeakers. Although the play itself doesn’t resemble the geeky new
wave rocker (aside from both being British, and the fact that Costello
wrote a song called "Watching the Detectives"), they have a common
style: the work may seem abrasive at first, but it finally wins you over
with a desire to entertain on its own terms.
August 15, 2002
The play’s setup is simple: the employees of a detective agency (an English one) have one day to solve a case or they lose their jobs. Of course, these gumshoes—broadly drawn characters like spinster June Bride and blind twit Devon St. Ponce—can’t even find their own intern, who’s been missing for months and is the only competent bloodhound of the bunch. To add to their problems, someone’s spiked their tea, and they’re sipping their way to a narcotic dreamworld in which every wish is fulfilled.
Apparently this agency is in Monty Python’s jurisdiction: the audience is treated to silly walks, broad accents, big wigs, fat suits, waxed moustaches, and other absurd sight gags. But since the cast plays it like no joke is too gut-wrenchingly bad to tell, the premise only grows funnier. Detective Agency seems to be full of improvisationally developed scenarios and characters, probably because the writers (Dan Berrett, Mark Hervey, Mike Rock, and Andrea Rosen) play the sleuths themselves. And the ad-hoc set has a slapped-together look that reinforces this feeling.
In fact, Detective Agency’s anything-goes attitude ingratiates itself with the audience, making it far more fun than it has any right to be. Clever props (check out the milk cartons) and quick costume changes prove that the company has planned the entire evening carefully. By the finale, a song-and-dance number complete with a deadpan Brit in rainbow spandex leotard boogying to the disco hit "Best of My Love," you can’t stop watching these detectives.