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A CurtainUp DC Review
The Boy Detective Fails & The Hollow
Signature Theatre does not shy away from risks. However, opening the 2011/12 season with two world premieres while Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer is in New York opening Follies (), has not gone smoothly. The Hollow and The Boy Detective Fails which are running in repertory were commissioned by Signature Theatre as part of the American Musical Voices Project: The Next Generation. They have all the splendid production values -- particularly Derek McClane's set -- that we have a tendency to take for granted at Signature. The six-piece orchestra makes Matt Conner's music sound beautiful and special kudos go to Sound Designer Matt Rowe, whose offstage whinnying horse sounds as though he's ready to gallop across the set.
The Boy Detective Fails
Stephen Gregory Smith as the boy detective (Billy Argo) with short-cut hair, knee pants and childlike social ineptitude, gives an excellent performance. "Everybody's good at something," he says earnestly, "I'm good at finding the truth." With the surety that comes with youth, Billy thinks that if he puts his mind to it he can solve any crime, any puzzle, and he's pretty good at what he does. His sister Caroline (well played by Margo Seibert) and his friend Fenton (played with an infuriating nasality and cartoonish characterization by James Gardiner) agree.
When confronted with the tragedy of Caroline's death by suicide, Billy searches for clues as to why. But the questions are never answered. He cannot accept the fact that you cannot know everything and that is the play's theme. Some things are unknowable.
Billy's grief is misconstrued by the town's citizens and the poor guy is shuffled off to a hospital for the mentally unstable. This is where Meno's play shifts gears and loses direction, as do Adam Gwon's otherwise admirable music and lyrics. Is this children's theatre, a macabre psychological thriller, vaudeville or what? Probably not the fault of director Joe Calarco. Joe Meno's script could use judicious editing.
The mashup of themes and musical styles are distracting and the attempts at humor (false disguises, a vaudeville turn, a pawnshop killer (overplayed by Evan Casey), security men who do the bunny hop) flop. Enter Billy's love interest -- if he were interested in love, he's very shy -- a kooky kleptomaniac named Penny (an endearing performance by Anika Larsen) who always wears pink and brown and sometimes goes dancing with people who aren't there. Her advice to Billy regarding his desire to "solve" the mystery of Caroline's death is "You shouldn't wreck your brain with things you cannot explain." Right.
The Hollow's ensemble under Matthew Gardner's direction is, for the most part, fine. But Hunter Foster's adaptation of Washington Irving's wordy and grim tale of narrow-minded, rich and zealous Dutch immigrants living in Tarrytown, New York is less so. It makes you wonder if this show is meant as a comment on 21st-century conservatism, just as Arthur Miller's drama The Crucible examined the morality of witch hunting at the time of the McCarthy hearings. That part works well. However, the rest makes for a dark and dreary musical .
Book of Mormon -CD
Our review of the show
Slings & Arrows-the complete set
You don't have to be a Shakespeare aficionado to love all 21 episodes of this hilarious and moving Canadian TV series about a fictional Shakespeare Company