'Sleuth' murder mystery a battle of wits
By Dave Dondoneau
Manoa Valley Theatre has had its share of successful musicals, parodies and heart-tugging productions this season, but the one thing that's been missing from its playlist thus far has been an honest-to-good-ness, keep-you-on-the-edge-of-your-seat whodunnit-type murder mystery.
"Sleuth" opened last night and continues through June 6. It has the promise of being the most intriguing production of the season: a murder mystery/thriller mixed with humor.
"We pride ourselves on the diversity of what we have to offer with our six productions each year," said Dwight Martin, who oversees MVT's daily operations. " 'Sleuth' is just such a delicious production with twists and turns. Hopefully, we can keep audiences guessing to the end."
Martin said the script was so captivating when he read it that he felt compelled to audition for the lead role of Andrew Wyke, an eccentric and successful British mystery writer whose fascination with weapons, games and intrigue sets up a deadly contest with his wife's young lover.
Weapons are used, fights ensue and tricks are played. It's a clever show that has tested audience members' wit since Anthony Shaffer wrote it in 1970.
"As an actor, every once in a while you find a script with a character that's a side of you that you don't get to show," Martin said. "My guy is so wicked and evil I thought it would be fun to play. He has this veneer of being a refined, polite country gentleman, but underneath, he's really just scheming and plotting all the time, and I love it because it goes against my character. It's something different."
Martin has worked with MVT for 30 years, but to land the lead role he attended an open audition and beat out nine other actors.
"It was made clear beforehand that I was auditioning just like everyone else," Martin said. "Age-wise, I'm 57 and that fits the character. I will say I've taken on a lot of challenging roles in the past and this one may be the hardest I've done. It's very multi-layered and physically demanding. We don't just sit around and have cocktails and scheme on stage; we really go after each other. It's physically exhausting."
Martin's foil throughout the two-hour production is Todd Coolidge, who plays Milo Tindle, the young lover of Wyke's wife.
Tindle is lured to Wyke's luxurious home, where Wyke convinces Tindle to stage a robbery of his wife's jewelry. The proposal sets off a chain of events that leaves the audience trying to decipher where Wyke's imagination ends and reality begins.
"He has been magnificent to work with," Martin said of Coolidge, who is making his MVT debut. "Todd has got this energy and seriousness on stage that's just marvelous. I've never had so much fun on stage as when I do when I'm looking into his eyes. It's like sparring with him for two hours. Acting is all about reacting, and he just gives off such great energy and vitality to play off of."