Sunday, August 04, 2019

“Rope”—a treatise on Nietzscheism and religious questioning masquerading as a mystery

When theatrical mysteries are thought of the works of Agatha Christie (“The Mousetrap”), Anthony Schaffer (“Sleuth”), Tim Kelly (“The Butler Did It”), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (“Sherlock Holmes”) and Tom Stoppard (“The Real Inspector Hound”) come to mind. 

These shows build tension and suspense, leave the audience grasping at clues to solve “who did it” or what twist and turn will reveal the villain.

Patrick Hamilton’s “Rope,” which is now on stage at The Shaw’s Royal George Theatre, unfortunately wouldn’t make the well-made mystery list, as it suffers from poor concept development and a weakly conceived production. 

The British play is set on the first floor of a house in London in 1929.  The story, centers on Wyndham Brandon and Charles Granillo, two young university students who have pulled off what they perceive to be the perfect crime, that of murdering a fellow student. 

Much like in the real Leopold and Loeb murder of young Bobby Franks, their reason centers on the belief that they can get away with the act because of their supposed intellectual superiority, a very Nietzschesque concept.

Friedrich Nietzsche proposed an ethical relativism philosophy in which superior men ignore the concept of good and evil and, because they are super beings, transcend the morality of the herd.  He stated, “Man is a rope, fastened between animal and Superman—a rope over an abyss.”

It is from this quote that the play’s title emerges.

As the play opens, in a dimly lit room, we see the duo carry in a body and dump it into a chest center stage. 

In a bizarre twist, the young men host a party at which the locked chest, which contains the corpse, is used to serve a buffet.  Included in the guests is the father of the dead student.

“After the party, one guest, a former professor of the murderers, returns and contrives to open the chest. He is shocked and ashamed that they have acted in response to his own declarations of amorality. The play ends with this quandary unresolved.”

The play was first an experimental BBC show, then an Alfred Hitchcock film.  The latter contained many changes to the stage play.  (Changes it appears should have been considered for this production.)

The script which, in the Shaw program is compared to Meyer Levin’s “Compulsion,” is neither as well-written or intriguing as that masterful play. 

Some of the characters are weakly developed, others seem to have no place in the tale, and the plot lacks the needed twists and turns to grab and hold the audience.

As for the production, director Jani Lauzon does what she can to breathe life into to it, with little success. 

Joanna Yu has done a masterful job of creating a multi-level set which allows us, through the use of a scrim back wall, to see people ascending and descending a staircase.  The lighting, however, did little to enhance the production.

Capsule judgment: “Rope” is a weakly written script which fails to compel or demand attention.  One can only wonder why the powers that be decided that it was worth the time and effort of the cast, crew and audience.

WHERE:  Royal George Theatre
WHEN:  Runs through October 12