Will ‘The Real Inspector Hound’ please stand up (please stand up, please stand up)?

Moon (Philip Winston) and Birdboot (Jon Steinhagen) get critical in Stoppard’s “The Real Inspector Hound,” Signal Ensemble Theatre’s inaugural production in their fancy new digs.

Birdboot and Moon certainly love to hear the sounds of their own voices — particularly during a performance. These two self-absorbed critics in Tom Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound sit in their imperiously rigid boxed seats as a ridiculous murder mystery (think The Mousetrap meets Noises Off) plays out before them. They make ludicrously grand statements about the state of the art and the worthiness of the play, but they mostly just talk about themselves. And then, in a clever turning of the table, the critical duo gets mixed up in the play-within-the-play action, finding themselves a pawn of their own parlor mystery.

Without giving too much away, Signal Ensemble Theatre’s charming production, which opens their handsome new permanent home at 1802 W. Berenice Ave., pretty much hits you over the head (or shoots you in the back) with its idea that the theatre critic of yore is dead. I don’t think that was Stoppard’s intention with the piece — more a wry (and funny) analysis on the profession of criticism and the tired conventions of whodunnit mysteries — but it’s an interesting one. Maybe valid, too — but I don’t really know.

As I sat with my friend who blogs about theatre for ChicagoNow, the irony of the situation wasn’t lost on us. You know: two theatre bloggers watching a show about the death of print critics. How meta!

At any rate, this is a fun and fine production — if a little ham-fisted. At the risk of sounding like Birdboot or Moon, I’d suggest director Ronan Marra dial back the slapstick a notch and let Stoppard’s script do the work. And the show’s “playbill” is one of the most awesome things ever, filled with amazing vintage ads like this one. It sets the stage nicely for the absurdity to come.

“The Real Inspector Hound” plays through Sept. 18 at Signal Ensemble Theatre. More info here >

7 thoughts on “Will ‘The Real Inspector Hound’ please stand up (please stand up, please stand up)?

  1. That’s not meta. Coincidental or funny, sure. But it isn’t meta. Meta is a prefix that means “after,” “along with,” “beyond,” “among,” or “behind.” Meta also men’s the least dehydration of a series in Chemistry, but I don’t think that’s what you meant.

    Also, Stoppard’s was using literal death of critics while bloggers are definitely not killing print critics.

    1. Ah, Columbia Student, back to tell me what’s what. Ok, I’ll raise your “Meta” and ask you to explain what you mean when you say “Meta also men’s.”

      Because that’s certainly a definition I’m unfamiliar with.

  2. “Meta” today is used to mean a work of art that explicitly comments on other art, and is now also being used to describe the experience of watching a work of art that interacts wtith the life or personal experience of the viewer. For instance, a few weeks ago, I watched “Best Worst Movie” at the Music Box. When the movie had scenes filmed at the Music Box itself, it was a disconcertingly meta experience. You may find that usage to have drifted unacceptably far from the dictionary definition of the word, but in that case it’s the general culture, not Bob, that is pissing you off.

    And of course you know that, spelled correctly or not, “means” doesn’t have an apostrophe, right?

  3. Anonymous Columbia Student That Inexplicably Seems Bent On Starting a Flame War, “Meta” is actually defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as meaning “self-referencing.” It might now be taken to mean different things because, like many other words in the English language, the definitions have been skewed. Although because of autocorrect and auto-predict on smartphones, I can see why it says “men’s” instead of “means.” However, you might want to proofread your comments.

    Although it does refer to the least hydrated part of a combination. You are correct on that count.

    In regards to Bob’s review, I considered the slapstick and overacting to be a parody of really terrible mystery plays that the best thing Birdboot could say would be, “This actress I want to sleep with has a great performance.” (Well, not exactly that.) I’ve unfortunately seen mysteries that were performed in that same manner. Although I haven’t been lusting after actresses.

    1. And, Monica, please know WordPress tracks IP addresses. So, you might as well not hide behind the cloak of anonymity. My blog is a not a place to start flame wars with yourself.

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