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Ken Russell's staging of this mediocre thriller is often more silly than scary. logo
Lee Godart and Keith Carradine in Mindgame
(© Aaron Epstein)
The New York stage debut of director Ken Russell -- whose acclaimed films include Tommy, Women in Love, and The Boy Friend -- should be a momentous occasion. But unfortunately, his staging of Anthony Horowitz's mediocre new thriller Mindgame, now at the SoHo Playhouse, is often more silly than scary.

The play involves a visit that true crime novelist Mark Styler (Lee Godart) pays to an asylum run by Dr. Farquhar (Keith Carradine) in the hopes of interviewing one of the serial killer inmates at the facility. However, things don't seem quite right at this nut house, with the odd behavior by Nurse Plimpton (Kathleen McNenny) being just the tip of the iceberg. As the play's title indicates, at least one of these characters is practicing some sort of psychological manipulation, and over the course of the evening the motivations and even the very identities of all three come into question.

Mindgame includes a number of plot twists, hidden secrets coming to light, and mysterious goings-on. But much of it is far too predictable, and Russell's directorial choices are often questionable. For example, during one climactic scene, sound designer Bernard Fox's background music swells to a fever pitch, only to cut off abruptly once the "scary" moment passes, provoking a few giggles in the audience. Even more egregious, the closing moment of the show should be somewhat disturbing, but that quality is undermined by a ludicrously melodramatic staging of it.

To the show's credit, it toys with some provocative ideas about how we tell the difference between the sane and insane. Additionally, Beowulf Boritt's set design undergoes both subtle and not so subtle changes over the course of the two-act work that successfully plays with the audience's perceptions of what is meant to be "real" and what is not.

Carradine acquits himself well enough, striking a fine balance between menace and charm. He conveys a keen enthusiasm for some of the juicier bits of dialogue he's given, although there's only so much he can do with the part as written. McNenny finds the humor in her role, particularly in the first act, but her act two turn isn't nearly as effective.

Godart, on the other hand, is nearly unwatchable throughout. The opening scene in which he is alone on stage talking into a tape recorder starts off the production with a thud. He also fails to make his character sympathetic, which is a rather large problem, since the play's action pivots on the audience being able to relate to Styler.

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