The Ballard Underground, 2220 N.W. Market St., 395-5458, ghostlighttheatricals.org. $12–$15. 7:30 p.m. Thurs.–Sat., plus 2 p.m. Sun., Nov. 10. Ends Nov. 23.
Nothing’s more savage than murder, and nothing’s more bloodless than a British drawing-room chat-fest. Pair the two, and you’d bet money that a grisly killing would keep tensions high in Ghost Light Theatricals’ Rope, inspired by the 1924 Leopold and Loeb murder. (Alfred Hitchcock’s 1948 movie was adapted from this play.) Yet though the show clocks in at only two hours (with 15-minute intermission), Justin Ison’s stultifying direction and Patrick Hamilton’s endlessly meandering text make this Rope very slack. Forget the murder: This play is death by filibuster.
Why? English playwright Hamilton wrote Rope in 1929, and it’s a product of its time. During several long speeches—punctuated by one character’s repeated demands for yet another drink—I was reminded of the English insistence that meat should be boiled until all traces of flavor had safely vanished. And that is what happens here, after two upper-crust collegians strangle an Oxford classmate for sport. Wyndham (Jaryl Draper) evinces a cool braggadocio that barely conceals his homicidal bloodlust, while Charles (Geoff Finney) veers madly between conniving stealth and the shivering, wild-eyed terror of a mistreated chihuahua. To their house come various gasbags who cannot wait their turn to deliver speeches that could be timed with a calendar. Principal among them is Rupert (Chris Martinez), the worthy if wordy adversary who eventually uncovers both the crime and the body—perhaps to his own ruin.
On the plus side, Kristina Stimson drapes her cast in some splendid Gatsbyesque finery, and Ison’s set design (in collaboration with Terra Morgan) shrouds the proceedings in an eerie elegance. But the British accents, while clipped and delivered with aristocratic pomp, correspond little to a map of the UK. That the actors are working so hard on their Oxbridge-ese only slows further what little action there is. As true-crime tales go, Rope is dated enough in its dramatic construction. What really signals its age, however, is the (then-) shocking suggestion that the perpetrators are—gasp!—homosexual lovers. Today, if you wanted to update the text, you’d have Wyndham and Charles exchange their vows on death row, and have their execution chamber decked out as a wedding suite. Kevin Phinney