Fans of murder mysteries may already be familiar with "Sleuth," the award-winning play by Anthony Shaffer. The story of an acclaimed mystery writer named Andrew Wyke who lures his wife's lover to his home in the English countryside picked up the Tony for Best Play in 1970.
Shaffer's masterful plot is thick with deceit and double-crossers. "Sleuth" was performed nearly 1,500 times during its two-year run on Broadway before it gained only greater popularity through not one but two film adaptations. The first starred Laurence Olivier as Andrew and Michael Caine as the younger man Milo Tindle. The two are locked in a war of wit, revenge and, yes, murder.
Yet it is no mystery why "Sleuth," often called the best thriller ever written for the stage, has always brought the heavyweights of British theater out to play. According to Christopher Alleman, producing artistic director of the Lake Dillon Theatre Company (LDTC) where "Sleuth" will run through Feb. 10, the play is a "cat-and-mouse suspense story with a twist and then another twist." He added that "Sleuth" has "real name recognition." He is likely referring to the second film adaptation of the play, directed by Kenneth Branagh from a screenplay by Harold Pinter. In 2007, Michael Caine returned to the cast but not to the same role. As Milo, Jude Law played the role that Caine had originated onscreen more than 30 years prior. "The crimes in this play are physical as well as mental," said Alleman, and "they always keep the audience guessing."
Directing the current production of "Sleuth" at the LDTC is veteran Alan Osburn. He has directed more than 30 productions ranging from Shakespeare to Sondheim across Colorado, in addition to five world-premiere plays in New York. Osburn confesses that directing the famously complicated play posed certain challenges. For starters, there is Andrew's English home, which is chock-full of antiques and inventions. Osburn said he tried to present them onstage as accurately as possible, though guns are fired and the set must undergo significant damage.
Osburn is pleased to be directing some top-notch actors in the current LDTC production: as Andrew, there's Thomas Borrillo, winner of the Marlow Critic's Award for "A Lie of the Mind" and the 2007 Henry Award winner for co-starring in "Frankie and Johnny" alongside his fiance. Milo is played by Joel Rainwater, last seen as Mervyn in LDTC's "A Behanding in Spokane" and in the Broadway tour of "The Lion King." Borrillo spoke to the fairly tight rehearsal schedule behind "Sleuth" but added, happily, "this is a tricky show and Joel and I are up for some fun."
When the affable Alleman spoke to the theater season ahead of LDTC this year, he said he hoped it will be an "enriching experience for everyone in the community." On "Sleuth," however, he lit up a bit and said, "There's a murder," then, with some mischief in his eyes, "and a few other crimes, actually."