The Soho Playhouse is built for Lilliputians. Even Film Forum, which started there, had to move to larger quarters, and they don’t need a stage at all. The theater has the effect of making you feel as though you are staring down the wrong end of a pair of binoculars. So set designr Beowulf Boritt had his work cut out for him when he accepted this job. Everyone did.
Mindgame is just a loopy show, but it hooked me. I didn’t see what was coming at all. The story takes place in a madhouse in the English countryside, where we find a writer, Mark Styler (Lee Godart), ensconced in the office of the hospital director, waiting to interview the director and then one of the more dangerous inmates, a Mr. Easterner. Dr. Farquhar (Keith Carradine) — pronounced "Farr" ("the q is silent and the h redundant") – soon enters, and we are off to the races. The next two hours are filled with verbal dodgeball, an excellent turn by Kathleen McNenny as Nurse Plimpton, and some downright deception.
Locked up on this little stage together, the actors would be challenged anyway, even if this were an exceptional script. It isn’t, but it’s not bad. Part of the problem is that while Carradine and McNenny are working their fannies off and having a darn good time doing it, Godart is marching to the beat of a different drummer. Mindgame is a sort of elaborate tennis match, reminiscent of Sleuth, where what you see is not what you get. It needs actors who are fleet of foot and deft with speech. Mr. Godart is neither. This may account for some of the grand mugging Carradine uses in his first scenes, which is otherwise a little surprising considering his ability to capture stillness on the screen. He abandons this affectation soon enough, however, and the play chugs along just fine.
In fact, it flows so rapidly that at the conclusion of the first act we are wondering what could possibly happen in the second act -– what could be left? Plenty, as it turns out. Carradine has most of the second act to himself, in terms of text, and he makes fair use of it in spite of the absurd blocking that has him stumbling over trash bins and around chairs on this already tiny set. In addition, there are a couple of gaffes that the actors have to deal with, in the form of plot twists that border on the truly absurd. (“Release me from this straitjacket.” “I can’t. The straps are too tight.”) Ken Russell’s direction, which leaves them at the mercy of the flaws in the script over and over again, doesn't help.
Mindgame as it stands is a fixer-upper. It’s got character and needs a loving family to make it a showpiece. That would be the preferred plot twist.
MINDGAME by Anthony Horowitz; directed by Ken Russell.
WITH: Keith Carradine (Dr. Farquhar), Lee Godart (Mark Styler) and Kathleen McNenny (Nurse Plimpton). Sets by Beowulf Boritt; lighting by Jason Lyons; costumes by Melissa Bruning; sound by Bernard Fox; fight director
J. David Brimmer; general manager, Darren Lee Cole Theatricals; makeup and hair design by J. Jared Janas and Rob Greene; production stage manager, Dee Wickert; production manager, Peter Dean. Presented by the SoHo Playhouse, Darren Lee Cole, producing director; Faith A. Mulvihill, executive director; and Monica Tidwell, Mr. Cole, Joseph Callari, Michael Butler, Robert R. Blume, Mary and Pierre Cossette, Victor Lownes and Rusty Holzer. At the SoHo Playhouse, 15 Van Dam Street, South Village; (212) 691-1555. Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes.