Shakespeare Theatre Company invites audiences to poke a little fun at critics this winter with two famous “behind-the-scenes” plays condensed into one night of comedy. Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 18th-century satire, The Critic, and Tom Stoppard’s 1968 play-within-a-play, The Real Inspector Hound, will be performed in tandem at STC’s Lansburgh Theatre from January 5 to Valentine’s Day.
It was the juxtaposition between the two plays – set in and performed during disparate centuries, with distinct comedic styles and commentaries on the theaters of their time – that piqued STC Artistic Director Michael Kahn’s interest.
“That’s the fun of it,” Kahn says of the plays. “They are different, but they’re also about similar things.”
The common thread between them, he says, is a humorous, imaginative look at what critics think, and how and why they do their jobs. The Critic – originally a three-act play, adapted as a one-act by Jeffrey Hatcher – follows two theater critics at a rehearsal for a parody of a tragic drama. Meanwhile, the whodunit antics of The Real Inspector Hound center on two critics who become suspects while watching a murder mystery.
Kahn, a huge fan of murder mysteries who once directed crime writer Agatha Christie’s The Unexpected Guest, handpicked his eight-person cast – nine if you include the dead body – four from the DC area, and four from the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. Each actor transitions seamlessly from one play to the next with just an intermission between, picking up a second role completely unlike the first.
When asked how he anticipates critics will receive the two-in-one production, he says playfully that he hopes they’ll be forgiving to the playwrights and “have as much fun as Mormons do going to The Book of Mormon.”
“I hope [audiences are] coming in for a good time, and that they might have some fun along with us…while we’re having fun with the critics.”
But Kahn is quick to point out that the production isn’t just geared toward critics, but to all audiences who will surely enjoy the works of two renowned playwrights.
Tickets to The Critic & The Real Inspector Hound start at $20. If you’re under 35, catch a performance for $25 during Young Prose Nights on January 20 or 29, and enjoy a libation and pre- or post-performance soiree.
Lansburgh Theatre: 450 7th St. NW, DC; 202-547-3230; www.shakespearetheatre.org