One thing about the ending of "Accomplice:" Audiences won't see it coming.
Not because of the copious twists and hairpin turns playwright Rupert Holmes ("The Mystery of Edwin Drood," "Say Goodnight, Gracie") introduces into his 1990 comic thriller, currently running at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights. But because audiences could not possibly imagine an ending so patently false and so jaw-droppingly preposterous as the one that concludes this play.
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"Accomplice"★ ★ ½
Location: Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, 111 W. Campbell St., Arlington Heights, (847) 577-2121 or metropolisarts.com
Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 7 p.m. Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday through April 21. Also 1 p.m. March 27
Running time: About two hours, 30 minutes with intermission
Parking: Free adjacent garage and street parking
Rating: For adults; strong sexual content and brief partial nudity
With its brittle repartee and assorted machinations, the long-winded, often repetitive "Accomplice" begins as a whodunit in the tradition of such classics as Ira Levin's "Deathtrap" and Anthony Shaffer's "Sleuth," both of which the playwright references outright. The fake accents, fussy stage business and broadly comic romantic tryst suggest a playwright having a bit of fun with conventions. Yet, the second act segues into a full-on sendup before devolving into something else altogether, which any additional explanation would spoil.
Despite having something of an identity crisis, "Accomplice" has some merit. Holmes' pop culture wisecracks and insider references make for amusing moments. (Theater fans in particular will get a chuckle out of references to acting gurus Stanislavski and Uta Hagen.)
Most of those moments occur at the beginning of Act II, where Holmes successfully tips his hat to Michael Frayn's backstage farce, "Noises Off." The scene unfolds as a metatheatrical romp -- peppered with debates over plot points and gratuitous nudity -- that is easily among the most enjoyable scenes in director Robin M. Hughes' production.
"Accomplice" benefits greatly from Metropolis' very able quartet made up of Kelly Lynn Hogan, Paul del Gatto, Jonathan Nichols and Julie Schroll. Unfortunately, the actors -- who play multiple roles -- are ill-served by the script of this British-style thriller, which unfolds during the 1970s allowing for references to The Carpenters singing group and Benson & Hedges cigarettes.
The occasion is a weekend getaway at a secluded cottage outside London where Janet (the crisply conniving Hogan) attempts to murder her husband Derek. Except that Derek isn't Derek. He's Janet's lover John (Paul del Gatto), Derek's business partner. Turns out the pair are rehearsing the murder of Janet's husband (played by Nichols with a kind of doltish affability), which the couple have timed to coincide with the arrival later that evening of John and his wife Melinda (Schroll). That's merely the first in a series of plot twists which reveal that neither the characters nor their relationships are what they seem.
The best thing about Metropolis' production is the cast. Hogan and Nichols slip easily into their roles as partners in a loveless marriage, although one imagines Noël Coward would serve them better. Nichols is also very funny as an exasperated director, and del Gatto and Schroll possess a comic flair, which they use to fine effect in the aforementioned second act opening.
But what Hughes and her cast need to make "Accomplice" work is a coherent script. That Holmes fails to supply one is a crime.