By: Walter Ruff
As Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart Again fades into the background WSC’s newest production Hapgood opens in the men’s changing rooms of a public swimming pool where a complex trade of top secret information is taking place. Briefcases slide under this door then that door so many times it takes quantum physics to explain it. The exchange goes bad and Hapgood (Kathleen Akerley) our heroine could be the spy to blame. Kerner (Bruce Alan Rauscher) is a Russian defector and double agent who is working on a Star Wars weapon based on quantum physics. After the botched exchange he can no longer be trusted so the Russians kidnap Hapgood’s son (Brandon Thane Wilson) and hold him for the obvious ransom. It will take a savvy plan, some cloak and dagger antics and big chrome hand guns to ensure his safe return.
The story is rather dated — a Cold War play in a post-Cold War world. It is challenging for us to recall the “Evil Empire” as it was during the early 80’s. Good stories though, stand the test of time and this one has stood up quite well. Multiple plot twists, double and triple agents, kidnappings, twins and more twins, quantum physics, love affairs and anti-matter all make their way into this cold war spy thriller by Tom Stoppard. Clever plot twists keep us guessing and quantum principles help explain (or jumble) them.
Kathleen Akerley as Hapgood (aka Mom) is brilliant and she brings an almost devilish charm to the world of high stakes espionage. Her best acting in Hapgood comes during scenes when she has to exhibit human emotions such as when her son is kidnapped. Bruce Alan Rauscher as Kerner gives a fine performance as the Russian defector, scientist and quadruple, maybe quintuple agent. Other standouts include Ian Armstrong as Blair, who is very believable as a British super spy and Hugh T Owen as Ripley, who after being duped by Hapgood and Blair near the end of the second act exclaims “Give me a minute, I’m slow. .” Also giving a good performance is Jay Hardee as Maggs who brought light hearted humor at all the right moments.
Christopher Henley and Alexandra Hodge are extremely successful in keeping the multiple plot twists in the audience’s grasp at all times, somewhat difficult I am sure, since there are an abundance of them to manage. The staging is excellent, the pace is brisk and scene transitions smoothly done. Speaking of the lighting (by Jason Arnold); it also was excellent and complemented the bright red stage graphics and set pieces. Elizabeth Jenkins McFadden (Scenic Design) and Erik Trester (Sound Design) do a wonderful job creating a smorgasbord of colorful visuals and 80s dance sounds that accentuate the performance but do not overwhelm it.
WSC has never been a theatre company to shy away from difficult to produce material and does a great job mounting this play without falling in many of the obvious traps. Christopher Henley knows his craft and brings quality theatre to the Clark Street stage that entertains and educates as well. For SPY vs SPY action with the charm of classical theatre visit Clark Street Playhouse (now in it’s last season of operation) and see Hapgood — for once all the unclaimed, suspicious briefcases have been accounted for.
Directed by Christopher Henley and Alexandra Hodge, Set Design by Elizabeth Jenkins McFadden, Lighting Design by Jason Arnold, Costume Design by Melanie Clark, Sound Design by Erik Trester, Properties Design by Nick Scott, Stage Manager Jenn Carlson
Hapgood played by Kathleen Akerley, Blair by Ian Armstrong, Kerner by Bruce Alan Rauscher, Ridley by Hugh T Owen, Wates by Theodore M. Snead, Maggs by Jay Hardee, Merryweather by Michael Dove, Joe by Brandon Thane Wilson, Russian by Nick Scott