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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Playhouse West Presents Private Eyes

Also see Richard's recent review of Kept


Playhouse West is currently presenting the intriguing romantic "detective" comedy Private Eyes. It was written by Steven Dietz,one of America's most prolific playwrights. This play was presented at the Humana Festival in Louisville in 1997 and since that time has played in many regional theaters across the country. The Village Voice called it "the cleverest and most artful piece presented at the 21st Annual Humana Festival." The dialogue of the play is full of sophisticated wit and cleverness.

Private Eyes is a combination of Alan Ayckbourn and Pirandello. It is a comedy of doubts, a play within a play, and you are not sure what is real and what is not. The plot involves a very timid and jealous actor named Matthew who suspects his changeable actress wife, Lisa, is having or maybe not having an affair with their British director Adrian. To further complicate matters to the audience, the three are in the midst of rehearsing a play written by Adrian depicting an affair that is similar to what is going on during the rehearsal.

Matthew's suspicions of the situation are assisted by Cory, who could be a "Private I" or just a jilted wife. Didn't I say it was confusing? There is even a psychiatrist, Frank, trying to make sense of what is real, what are the fantasies of the husband and what part is the play within the play itself. In fact, is Frank a psychiatrist?

This comedy detective story is a thinking person's play that keeps you alert, as each scene changes rapidly. There are fantastic leaps of theatrical logic and each scene twists and turns your brain to the point that you are never quite sure what you have just seen. The next scene points out the deception of the past scene and this continues until the end of the two hour production. The basic issues of Private Eyes are those of fidelity and the perception of reality.

The small five member cast is superb in their roles. Paul Sulzman is splendid as the suspicious Matthew, who cannot tell if his convictions are real or imaginary. He gives emotional substance and timing as the jealous actor/husband. Chris Pflueger is sharp as the British director Adrian. He gives a convincing, fervent depth to his character. Tim Hendrixson does an admirable portrayal of the therapist.

The female roles are just as good with Sara Overman as Lisa, giving a commanding performance as the unruly wife. It is a high energy acting stint that is sharp and right on the mark. Rebecca Schweitzer as Cory is priceless in the role of the scene stealing sleuth. She is hilarious when discussing her professional title; she says, "I prefer dick."

Director Lois Grandi navigates the playwright's labyrinthine turns and has succeeded in staging an evocative and challenging work. The small set works very well in this shoe box theater.

Private Eyes plays through May 4 at Playhouse West, 1345 Locust Street, Walnut Creek, Ca. Tickets are $17 to $21, and you can call for tickets at (925)942-0300. Their next production is a little known musical that played in the Village in New York in the 70s. It is the rarely performed Whispers on the Wind with music and lyrics by John B. Kuntz and Lor Crane.


Cheers - and be sure to check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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