by Dick Kerekes
Gainesville’s Hippodrome Theatre got a head start on Halloween with its production of British playwright Anthony Horowitz’s Mindgames. This play had its American premier way back in 2001 in Miami and finally made it to Broadway in 2008 with Keith Carradine in the leading role.
There have only been a few chiller-thriller plays to my recollection and Sleuth, Deathtrap, Wait Until Dark come to mind. This play has a bit of gore as well and reminded me of Sweeney Todd when it came to consumption of human flesh.
This type of play presents a dilemma for a critic. It is a new play to this area, so how much of the plot do I dare give and not ruin it for potential patrons? Not much in this case, as there are too many twists and turns in the two hour show (with intermission).
The plot concerns Mark Styler, a writer working on his third book about serial killers. The show opens in the office of the chief psychiatrist of a hospital for the criminally insane in rural area of England. Dr. Farquhar tries to brush off this rather pushy author with various excuses? It is later revealed he has his very twisted reasons. The doctor’s nurse, Ms. Plimpton arrives with lunch for Styler, a liver sandwich! Advanced hint: can you guess the source of the liver!! Things turn from strained to tense and then all the action starts, and it unfolds that the three characters may not be who they seem to be, and you will have a tough time trying to figure out who is who and who did what. Well, that is all you get from me, you have to learn the rest of the story by seeing it.
The plays director Lauren Caldwell is particularly good at scripts of this type, and I recall her Dracula and The War of the Worlds as examples of the many shows she has directed in her fifteen years at the Hipp.
Tod Zimmerman is outstanding as Slyler and this is his third trip to the Hipp stage. He was excellent in UP and last season’s Shipwrecked. Keep him coming back; he is always good and certainly very versatile.
David Sitler is a scary Dr. Farquhar and I am glad I did not meet him the alley after the show. This is Sitler’s 2nd Hippodrome show (he was the father in The Pursuit of Happiness). He spent a few months last year on the Broadway tour of Frost/Nixon with Stacy Keach.
If I had a dollar for every time I have seen Hippodrome regular Sara Morsey on stage, I could probably take a trip to New York. She plays the very interesting Nurse Plimpton, oh maybe I should say the very odd Nurse Plimpton, a nurse who wears a uniform with a plunging neckline. (It pays to have a little sex in a play like this).
Scenic Designer Carlos Francisco Asse’s doctor’s or administrative office is excellent for the intimate setting the script demands, with a strange door that offers up different things at different times. Robert Robin’s dramatic lighting designs add to the drama and tension.
Usually plays warn patrons if there is a strobe light in the play (it does things to pace makers, I understand). No, they don’t use one, but suddenly at a point in Act I, an alarm and siren go off and emergency red lights flash. If that does not get a rise out of you nothing will.
This production contains, life-sized skeleton, razor blades, a strait jacket and blood, but other than that is pretty tame! Actually there are a number of very funny lines and situations in Act II. So Mindgame has a little of everything, sex, horror, laughs, special effects, good acting and thrills, so what more could you ask for. I guarantee two things if you choose to see it. One, you won’t fall asleep, and you will be kept guessing till the very final curtain.
The Hippodrome is located in downtown Gainesville and as long as it is not a football day in town, there is plenty of parking available. I recommend the Saturday 5 pm show or the Sunday 2 pm, so that your pleasant 1 l/2 hour drive to and from is in daylight so you can see the sights!! If you like mysteries then don’t miss this one.