Theater Reviews

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Venue: SoHo Playhouse, New York (open-ended run)

The plot of the allegedly thrilling "Mindgame" is filled with conundrums that continually evolve into more cryptic queries. But the biggest mystery is why legendary film director Ken Russell chose this creaky, eight-year-old British vehicle for his stage debut.

Maybe he was lured by the setup -- a verbal sparring match between two rivals, during which revelations keep reinventing the tale. It certainly worked for the likes of "Sleuth" and "Deathtrap." Then again, Anthony Shaffer and Ira Levin are far better playwrights than Anthony Horowitz, at least if "Mindgame" is indicative of the latter's talents.

The saga itself had potential, as set in a notorious insane asylum. Pulp novelist Mark Styler (Lee Godart) visits the institution in hopes of interviewing a serial murderer whose history would make Hannibal Lecter flinch. But first he has to sit with the eccentric head psychiatrist, Dr. Farquhar (Keith Carradine), then contend with enigmatic Nurse Plimton (Kathleen McNenny.) Clearly, it's a very circuitous path to his goal, with revenge, torture, cannibalism and mutilation via scalpel taking turns front and center.

Given Russell's flamboyance as a director, -- best recalled from the over-the-top dramatics of "Women in Love," the mind-bending creativity of "Altered States" and the sheer kitsch factor of "The Who's Tommy" -- this updating of the genre promised non-stop fun with a few gasps along the way. Sadly, that's not the case. Not even close.

What unfolds is a snoozefest of the first magnitude. Virtually any hack could have been holding the reins, with a few surreal set metamorphoses -- some showy, some more subtle -- as the extent of Russell's sleight-of-hand. Worse, he keeps the pacing leaden and does virtually nothing to distract from the script's archaic qualities. Even a camp sensibility would have been welcome.

In fairness, Alfred Hitchcock couldn't have triumphed over prose this stilted. The plot points are drawn out beyond belief, with the end result making the lurid indistinguishable from the lugubrious. One could have chopped an hour from the finished product without losing a thing. Worse, there's a ten-minute "gotcha" finale that's supposed to justify the two hours of predictable, ham-fisted developments that precede it. Any viewers still awake will be duly insulted.

Not surprisingly, the cast founders. As Farquhar's antagonist, Lee Godart's reporter isn't remotely compelling. A little of his ranting goes a very long way. And while Kathleen McNenny's nurse screams on cue and certainly fills out her bondage gear (don't ask), she has a relatively thankless role.

As the manipulative Dr. Farquhar, Keith Carradine at least has star power. As evidenced nearly two decades ago on Broadway in "The Will Rogers Follies" (and last season on TV's "Dexter"), the actor simply emanates charisma. But given such dopey, screamingly obvious dialogue, his line readings were destined to suffer.

Clearly, Carradine and Russell's abilities are wasted in this sendup of loony bins. For their next project, they'd be well advised to steer clear of the insane, and inane.

Cast: Keith Carradine, Lee Godart, Kathleen McNenny.
Playwright: Anthony Horowitz.
Director: Ken Russell.
Scenic Designer: Beowulf Boritt.
Costume Designer: Melissa Bruning.
Lighting Designer: Jason Lyons. Sound Designer: Bernard Fox.
Presented by: The SoHo Playhouse.


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