Magic Circle Center''s current offering, Accomplice, has more metamorphoses than an attic full of cocoons. A comedic mystery in the same vein as Deathtrap or Sleuth, Accomplice also has a dash or two of Noises Off!''s inside-theater humor added to the recipe. The resulting puzzle is something that defies logical solution. Fans of "Clue" or Agatha Christie may find Accomplice unsatisfying: There are so many deviations from the original reality posited by the play that it comes completely unhinged.

It''s impossible to describe Accomplice''s plot without ruining the play''s roller-coaster effect. Suffice it to say that the play begins in an English cottage where Derek and Janet are awaiting the arrival of their weekend guests, John and Melinda. While Derek sips his nightly gin-and-tonic, the badinage between the couple is witty, fast-paced and decidedly nasty. But as these characters evolve in bizarre and unexpected ways, the script quickly spirals beyond the constraints of time, space and other commonly accepted norms of reality.

This is the kind of play where it would be counter-productive to allow the audience time for thinking about what''s happening, and director Ralph Senensky does a good job of keeping the show moving briskly. The pacing of the first act in particular seemed dead-on, although the second act--particularly in the early scenes--drags a little. That''s probably more a script problem than anything else: During the first act, we become accustomed to a fast pace. After intermission, we are hit with a huge plot-twist that requires a lot of exposition. It''s almost as if we are watching the beginning of a new play. Fortunately, the performers--Garland Thompson, Jr., Rachel Binder, Jack Stauffer and Lucinda Ulrich--make such good use of their lines that there are plenty of laughs--even when the show drags a bit.

Again, it''s hard to say very much about the performances without giving away the plot. But for the record, Thompson does a nice job of transforming from urbane villain to vulnerable dupe; Binder is consistently chilling in her impassivity; Stauffer is equally convincing as a harried husband and duplicitous conniver; and Ulrich''s scatterbrained moments believably mask darker motives.

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But there''s little to risk by singling out Del Gatto''s performance for high praise. An understudy character, Del Gatto reportedly stepped in Sunday afternoon with little preparation. Del Gatto appeared to be less familiar with the set than he was with his lines, and was involved in a dramatic, show-stopping accident near the end of the play.

Special mention should be given to Laura Cote''s set design, which achieves a deep, rich texture reminiscent of a casual English hunting lodge. Executed by Robert Colter (whose contributions as the play''s "associate producer" are commendable), the set virtually reeks from the smell of burning peat in the on-stage fireplace.

By far the best way to view Accomplice is to go into it expecting something like a Christopher Durang play where things start out in a reasonably normal way then quickly devolve into surrealism. Audiences that approach Accomplice as more comedy than mystery will be free to laugh their butts off without worrying about whodunit.

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