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A CurtainUp Berkshires Review

Double Double

When people say money isn't everything, it's because they've never had any. I've been rich and I've been otherwise and this is better. Phillipa, on what so many thrillers, comic or otherwise, revolve around.

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

---the three witches' chant in Macbeth.
Cranwell Resort

Matt Letscher and Jennifer Van Dyck
Matt Letscher and Jennifer Van Dyck
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
The way Rick Elice tells the story, he and Roger Rees, found themselves snowed in at a country house with nothing to do and so, being theater people, they decided to while away the time by creating their own take on the once popular genre known as the comedy thriller. After they concocted a nifty surprise ending, they worked their way back to develop a story line that would lead up to that finale, and keep audiences guessing (and laughing) throughout. The result was Double Double.

That was twenty years ago. The keep them guessing two-hander ended up playing in London's West End for a year with Rees on stage to provide the thrills, chills and laughs together with co-star Jane Lapotaire. It was translated into different languages for worldwide productions, Elice went on to co-author the hit musical Jersey Boys. Rees became artistic director of Williamstown Theatre Festival, and it is under his auspices in that capacity that the Main Stage is now winding up its Main Stage season with the American premiere for this stylish little English thriller.

It's an easy show to enjoy -- but hard to review since the less you know about the plot, the more fun you'll have watching the romantic cat and mouse game that plays out between Phillipa James (Jennifer Van Dyck) and Duncan McFee (Matt Letscher) over an eight-day period in her elegant duplex in London's Connaught Square. And so, just to set the scene enough to pique your curiosity: The apartment is filled with expensive African art and sleek modern furniture. When the lights dim Phillipa enters -- smartly coifed and wearing an expensive white fur jacket. She may be rich but she's sure nervous and why on earth is she spreading newspapers on the floor to create some sort of walkway? Enter the play's second character -- the unshaven, raggedy and not too clean Duncan. Evidently the newspapers (from which she's not too nervous to amusingly remove the puzzle section!) are to keep him from sullying the pristine digs. But why have him there to begin with? And thereby hangs the tale that has more twists and turns than Neil Patel's set has two-faced African masks.

You won't be too surprised to discover that Phillipa's remark about money (see quote at the top of this review) has a lot to do with Duncan's presence in that flat. After all money is at the root of many a mystery. It also won't spoil the puzzle to tell you that there's something special about him to make Phillipa select him as a likely prospect to implement a scheme to keep herself in furs and him off the streets. Finally, it won't interfere with your puzzling fun if I mention that as Eliza Doolittle refused to remain a pliable little flower girl once polished into ladylike splendor by Professor Higgins, so Duncan also gets a makeover and ends up with his own ideas for the final phase of Phillipa's scheme.

My lips are sealed except for this final hint: There's more to the title than Phillipa's answering the phone "double 7 double 4." But I can practically guarantee that Elice and Ress get away with their scheme: to hook you into the multi-layered intrigue, entertain and amuse you -- and keep you in the dark until the very last few moments. Naturally, no small measure of their success relies on top notch performers and Mr. Rees, who this time around remains behind the scenes as the show's director, is fortunate to have two thespians who get this odd couple's personalities and interaction right. Letscher has the meatier and funnier role and runs with it all the way, but Van Dyck is also excellent as the bossy, brittle, and vulnerable Brit. Best of all, the chemistry between the two sparkles with electricity.

Well chosen incidental music smartly hints at some of the revelations to come. If you dig deep enough you can find a moral somewhere but why not just sit back and enjoy this two hour throwback to the old-fashioned thriller that, as one wit famously put it, made even his goose pimples have goose pimples.

Playwrights: Roger Rees and Rick Elice .
Director: Roger Rees
Cast: Jennifer Van Dyck as Phillipa James and Matt Letscher as Duncan McFee. .
Set Design: Neil Patel.
Costume Design: Jennifer Caprio
Lighting Designer: Charles Foster
Sound Design: David Thomas
Running Time: 2 hours, including one 15 minute intermission, 413.597.3400,
August 16 to 27, 2006
Tuesdays to Fridays at 8:00, Saturdays at 8:30, with matinees Thursdays at 3:00, Saturdays at 4:00 and Sundays at 2:00 .
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at August 19th matinee

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