nytheatre.com review by Jo Ann Rosen
November 6, 2008
Mindgame, Anthony Horowitz's thriller at the Soho Playhouse, keeps the audience guessing. What initially seems like a little mindless fun is actually not mindless at all. Just when the plot seems painfully obvious in a playful, nearly tongue-in-cheek sort of way, it shifts dramatically to reveal the darker corners of human nature. Although it never delves too deeply, it touches enough of the psyche to keep an excellent cast physically and emotionally active and to demand that its audience frequently check in with "Wait. Exactly what is going on?"
The play begins with Mark Styler, a novelist, waiting for the arrival of Dr. Farquhar, head of an insane asylum, to discuss an interview with patient Easterman, a serial killer on whom Styler hopes to base his next book. The arrival of the doctor, their discussion, and the entrance of Nurse Plimpton draw the audience in immediately and dare each to trust his perceptions.
In his directorial stage debut, the venerable Ken Russell seems to revel in the many twists presented by the script; I, for one, left the theatre thinking I had seen a rollick, but upon further examination realized that I had seen something far more challenging. Russell nudges the actors to maximize the rapid pace of the script.
Lee Godart, as Styler, is aptly cast. He is tall, and by the end correctly looks too large for the space he is occupying. He covers a lot of emotional territory: unnerved at having to wait for the doctor, persuasive in his qualifications as a novelist, unsettled by the proceedings, and trapped. Keith Carradine brings confidence and efficiency to the role of Dr. Farquhar and knows where to put a pregnant pause. Both are on the stage for the full two hours, sparring at near manic speed, and can be forgiven if on occasion they appear to be trying a little too hard. These roles are difficult for the physical demands and emotional shifts. Kathleen McNenny lights up the stage in Melissa Bruning's spectacular ensemble as Nurse Plimpton. She, too, displays a wide range of emotion: apt anxiety, total despair, and complete control. There are points where the plot seems too implausible for words, but then remember—we are in an asylum where the unpredictable happens.
Helping with the unpredictable is set designer Beowulf Boritt, who has built a brilliant room that changes imperceptibly as the plot thickens—watch carefully. Jason Lyons does more than his share with the lighting, and Bernard Fox incorporates some pretty funky music where you least expect it. Fight direction is choreographed by J. David Brimmer.
Mindgame, which first opened in London, is a two-hour New York premiere that wants nothing more than to entertain. So, don't walk in thinking you can figure it all out. That will unnecessarily preoccupy you and prevent you from detecting the clever details on stage that change before your eyes. Simply go and enjoy.