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One act satires The Pot Boiler and The Real Inspector Hound at IPFW
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
Mark Ridgeway stumped me.
I studied English Lit, a field that includes some theater, and while I don’t claim complete familiarity with everything in that area, I do know a little about a lot of it.
So, The Real Inspector Hound, the second on a double bill of one-act plays that Ridgeway is directing at IPFW? I got that one. It came out in the very early 60s and it’s by Tom Stoppard, the guy who wrote Rosencrantz and Gildenstern Are Dead. What college sophomore with artistic pretensions doesn’t know Rosencrantz and Gildenstern?
But the other play, The Pot Boiler, a one-act from 1916 by Alice Gerstenberg? Never heard of it. Or her.
Ridgeway laughs, saying that it actually took him some effort to find a copy of The Pot Boiler when he was searching for a companion piece to the Stoppard play. “I happened to see The Pot Boiler a long time ago, and thought it was really funny,” he says. “I remembered it having a similar style and humor to …Hound. I finally found it through a library database, and I was able to order it from IU Bloomington.”
And Ridgeway’s instincts proved on target — The Pot Boiler has a lot more connection and resonance with The Real Inspector Hound than he even remembered. “Both of them are ‘plays within plays,’ and they’re both satires, satirizing different aspects of theater,” Ridgeway says. “Inspector Hound satirizes dramatic criticism, how seriously the critics take themselves and how ridiculous it becomes. The Pot Boiler does something similar, since the main character is a playwright/director (Sud, played by Nick Tash), and he lets an aspiring playwright watch a dress rehearsal of his latest play.”
The comparisons go farther than that. Both plays lampoon a popular style of their day, styles whose conventions had become stale, predictable, and ripe for parody. In The Real Inspector Hound, Stoppard sends up the English “cosies,” murder mysteries like Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap that typically take place in a remote English manor with a small group of people as the suspects. In The Pot Boiler, Gerstenberg mocks over-the-top melodramas featuring innocent yet plucky damsels-in-distress and dastardly villains.
But there’s something more ambitious going on in both pieces than merely a send-up of theater and dramatic genres (genres that seem pretty easy targets anyway). In different ways, they invite the viewer to become part of the action on stage — expressly so in the case of The Real Inspector Hound. Amanda Prater, a senior who plays the critic Moon in Hound, describes it as surreal. “It kind of blew my mind the first time I read it,” she laughs. “I kept thinking ‘what is happening? Why are these people who aren’t in the play, part of the action, and no one seems surprised by that?’ It plays with your mind, but it all makes sense in the end.”
If all this sounds a little heady, keep in mind that first and foremost, these plays are hilarious. The humor is broad, tapping into the manic spirit of vaudeville, which presented a challenge to the actors. Halee Bandt, an IPFW freshman who has been in productions at Youtheatre, the Fort Wayne Civic and First Presbyterian, said it was difficult at first to figure out how to play Miss Ivory, the stereotypical melodrama heroine, in The Pot Boiler (or, to be perfectly accurate, Bandt is actually playing an actress playing Miss Ivory). “I was so focused on being over the top, so focused on the ‘style’ of the play, that it was hard to remember that you have to act like this stock character is a real person,” she says. “It’s a hard balance, but you also have to keep in mind that these characters have to be believable in order to be funny.”
Ridgeway, who is both director and set designer for the production (he’s Associate Professor of Scenic and Lighting Design at IPFW), says the cast talked a lot about how to approach playing broad satire. “The actors still need to play those characters as genuine, so that they believe what their characters are doing, though the humor is broad, and the things they do can be a little ridiculous,” he explains. “The characters have to commit to what they’re doing and what they’re saying, so the audience buys that they’re not stock figures.”
Heather Moser is one of several actors with parts in both pieces. In The Pot Boiler, she plays playwright hopeful Wouldby, while in Hound she takes on one of the most exaggerated characters, Mrs Drudge. While everything about Mrs. Drudge — from her walk to her accent — is meant to elicit a laugh from the audience, Moser says that trying to be funny is a sure fire way to flop with the character. “The more outrageous it is, the funnier it is, but you can’t lose the truth of the character,” she says.
Amanda Prater’s character Moon has a lot of lines that she says sound obscure or even nonsensical. “So for me, it’s finding the sense in the nonsense,” Prater says. “Moon has to believe that what he’s saying means something.”
“Comedy is harder than drama,” adds Moser, who was recently in IPFW’s production of All My Sons, a much more realistic (and not at all funny) piece. “You have to have everything timed perfectly; you have to set up the joke; you have to get the inflection right. We’ve spent a long time working even on specific lines so that the joke comes across.”
The Pot Boiler and The Real Inspector Hound happen in IPFW’s Studio Theater in Kettler, a smaller venue with what Ridgeway tells me is called a “thrust” stage. “The audience is basically on both sides of the stage, as well as in the downstage area,” he says. “For these plays, the audience is to some extent a part of what’s happening on stage, especially in The Real Inspector Hound. This set-up helps enhance that feeling.”
IPFW Department of Theatre presents The Pot Boiler and The Real Inspector Hound
Fridays February 17, 24
Saturdays February 18, 25
Thursday February 23 at 8 p.m.
Feb. 26 at 2 p.m. Sign Language Interpreted Performance
Studio Theatre in Kettler Hall
2101 E Coliseum Blvd
$10 Groups of 10 or more
$ 5 Students 18 and under
$10 Other “college” students with ID
Admission for IPFW students with ID is free
Please arrive early. Latecomers will be seated at the discretion of management or at intermission.
The IPFW Larson Ticket Office in the Athletic Center is open Monday – Friday from 12:30 – 6:30 pm. Patrons are encouraged to call in advance to reserve their tickets.
Box Office: 260-481-6555
For information call the IPFW Larson Ticket Office at 260-481-6555 or visit ipfw.edu/theater