Everybody loves Tom Stoppard. Sure, he's a bit dated—the "meta" thing is pretty played these days—but Stoppard practically invented the watching me/watching you style of playwriting. His patented blend of existential angst and sly, self-referential humor is so engaging that a theater company practically has to try to make a Stoppard play anything but audience-friendly.

CoHo Productions delivers with The Real Inspector Hound, a convoluted look at the detective story genre that blurs the line between spectator and participant. Two theater critics have gone to review a murder mystery—but as they wait for the show to start, it becomes clear that they have their agendas. The tweedy Moon (played hilariously by John Steinkamp) is obsessed with becoming the number one critic at his newspaper, while pompous Birdboot is intent on writing a good review of the young actress he's sleeping with.

The play within the play (PWP) is a fairly straightforward spoof of a detective story. A madman is on the loose near an isolated manor house, suspicious characters present themselves, etc. The CoHo crew establishes a campy, melodramatic tone for the PWP, upheld most successfully by Gary Brickner-Schulz as a wheelchaired, mustachioed colonel, and Gretchen Corbett as Mrs. Drudge, the deliciously deadpan maid.

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Birdboot is soon smitten with the leading lady, and Moon occupies himself making ridiculous critical statements about the show. When Act Two begins, Birdboot and Moon are drawn into the PWP, with results so twisted as to render the line between performance and life totally irrelevant.

The staging is awkward, as Moon and Birdboot sit upstage, facing the audience, and the PWP takes place between the two critics and the audience. Moving the actors so close to the audience cuts into sightlines on both sides. There are other details to nitpick—the show is far from perfect—but the meta implications of writing about a play that's about someone writing about a play are making my head hurt, so I'll just say that at the end of the night, CoHo turns in a tight, engaging production of a truly delightful play. ALISON HALLETT

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