Swift Creek Mill's production of "Sleuth" is like playing chess by candlelight even if the electricity is working: It's entertaining and old-fashioned, but the mood is thoroughly achieved only through patience and adequate suspension of disbelief.
The basic premise of "Sleuth" is classic: males battling over possession of a female. Only in this story, the men use their game-playing wits to establish dominance. The audience is also seduced into the game through some tricks of the production. The idea is clever, but the play is a little dated and, at times, overly verbose. Murder-mystery author Andrew Wykes, well played by veteran actor Michael Toscano, talks way too much, as villains tend to do in that genre.
As a result of these lengthy "writer moments," the play moves like a caterpillar, all stops and starts, rather than the smooth snakelike movements of a good mystery. In one scene Andrew is holding a gun on Milo Tindle (Jeffrey Meisner), his wife's lover, and rambles on for four eternal minutes about his motives. It's completely unbelievable that Milo would sit that long in the face of this ridiculous monologue. During another such moment, an impatient older audience member shouted "Just shoot him!" summing up the collective frustration with exaggeration.
With so many long-winded speeches, it's easy to understand how Tuscano occasionally flubs his lines. But he covers his errors and brings the necessary mix of melodrama and eccentric class that the role requires. Meisner is perfectly acceptable as Milo, the foil to the melodramatic Andrew. However, speech is at times a challenge to him as well. He swallows some words, which is apparently a character choice, since the audience is treated to better annunciation when Milo imitates other characters.
"Sleuth" is a great excuse to drive down to Swift Creek Mill on a hot summer night. Just be sure to bring the right attitude and leave the impatient people at home. S
"Sleuth" at the Swift Creek Mill Theatre runs Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m. through Aug. 18. Matinees on select Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. and some Sunday evening performances at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $31.50-$43.50. 748-5203.