Matthew and Lisa rehearse a play for the British director, Adrian. The director seduces Lisa as Matthew tries to convince himself that Lisa couldn’t possibly be cheating on him. Moving along “with dispatch” as Adrian would put it, mistrust takes over my attention. This messy affair becomes more confusing as Adrian’s wife, Cory, shows up on stage playing different personae, and Matthew’s counselor Frank tries to convey “the truth” to the audience. The line between reality and fiction is thin for everyone, but particularly so for Matthew and Lisa, whose scenes from the framing play and the play-within-a-play constantly tricked me into believing something to be true that was proved wrong soon afterwards.
Private Eyes seemed to confuse many audience members’ minds this weekend, creating a breathtaking and quasi-illusionary atmosphere at Gannett Theater. The production had been widely talked about on campus; it was to be the thesis performance for one senior; and expectations were high as they always are when Professor Martin E. Andrucki is directing. However, air was running low this weekend at Gannett Theater. Was it worth the suffocation? Needless to say, yes it was.
Call it deception, call it surprise, the air running through Private Eyes by Steven Dietz this weekend appeared to leave its audiences breathless laughter after laughter, “discovery” after “discovery.” Private Eyes’ Matthew called it “truth,” I call it the act of wanting to remain speechless at a shooting of truth and equally believable fraud.
Entering Gannett Theater, the audience was seated in a proscenium set up that seemed to distance them from the performance. However far from that initial thought, the venue of Gannett (even in a proscenium setup) quickly became intimate. As lights went up on stage, the audience was bombarded by a minimalist stage design that promised to leave a lot of the show’s agency in hands of its performers.
Showcasing the extraordinary talent of Bates theatre, Private Eyes’ owes a lot of its success to its cast. John Dello Russo ’18 gave us a witty and opportunistic Adrian, while Samuel James ’18 played Matthew’s “real” and “fictional” characters in a crystal clear way. Hope French ’18 portrayed a disloyal Lisa, who can both be viewed either as a snake in the grass or, through a critical female gaze, as an object to Adrian and Matthew. Lila Patinkin ’20, on the other hand, presented an always-changing “private eye” in this whole affair and a beautifully cynical, hurricane-like Cory. The understanding of the many layers of the play would have not rendered as “frank” without Michael Driscal ’19, who proved to be a truthful Frank with the exception of the nonsensical end to his presence on stage.
The production was outstanding. Fusing minimalist design and complex acting, Andrucki took his audience on a journey of deception, where anything could be “the thing itself” as long as it was believable. Taking Dietz’s quasi-absurdist play to Gannett Theater, the cast and crew of Private Eyes brought laughter and disbelief to campus as they turned love, lust and deception into a ludicrous and comic enterprise. Characterized by its minimal stage design and often cold lighting, Private Eyes presages the coming of winter and the end of the Bates theatre season a month from now.