Summer Stage Update

THE REAL INSPECTOR HOUND and THE FIFTEEN MINUTE HAMLET. Plays by Tom Stoppard. Directed by Gloria Muzio. At the Criterion Center Stage Right through Sept. 27.

BUT this doesn't make any sense," objects one of the baffled characters in "The Real Inspector Hound," now being revived by the Roundabout Theatre Company. Twenty years after its New York debut, Tom Stoppard's hilarious spoof of mystery thrillers and drama critics proves its merits once more as amiable fare for a summer evening. The double bill at the Criterion Center Stage Right twins the exploits of Inspector Hound with "The Fifteen Minute Hamlet," a digest that defies augury and bardolatry.

As may be remembered, "The Real Inspector Hound" combines two worlds. Appropriately seated in boxes at stage upper right are the reviewers of the occasion: second-stringer Moon (Simon Jones) and his more senior colleague Birdboot (David Healy). Their conversation abounds in all the cliches, chestnuts, and shop talk of their trade. (Stoppard himself is a one-time play reviewer.) On the night in question, they are covering a whodunit populated by an appropriate cast of stock characters in familiar situatio ns.

Helped by Mrs. Drudge (Patricia Conolly), a model of the Cockney charwoman as expositor, the plot moves its dizzy way from opening to denouement. Involved in its comic deviousness are the mysterious Simon (Anthony Fusco), his jilted girlfriend Felicity (J. Smith-Cameron), the flamboyant chatelaine Cynthia (Jane Summerhays), the ominous Magnus (Jeff Weiss), and the possible real Inspector Hound (Rod McLachlan). As The Body, Gene Silvers deserves a mention for lying so still - and so long unnoticed by thes e house-partying swells.

The curtain raiser is Mr. Stoppard's "The Fifteen Minute Hamlet." The comedy consists of snippets culled from "Hamlet" and played at a pace to insure that the condensation will live up to its title. According to my watch, at least one recent preview clocked out at 14 minutes. Never mind. As Hamlet remarked, "... the readiness is all."

Principals in the Roundabout's ever-ready cast include Mr. Jones (Hamlet), Ms. Smith-Cameron (Ophelia), and Ms. Conolly (Gertrude). Messrs. Weiss, McLachlan, and Healy act assorted necessary roles. The direction by Gloria Muzio shares Stoppard's sense of the ridiculous. Designer John Lee Beatty has provided a theatrically hospitable setting for these hospitably theatrical proceedings, lighted by Pat Collins. Nothing has been stinted in Jess Goldstein's costumery. ALI. Play by Geoffrey C. Ewing and Graydon Royce. Directed by Stephen Henderson. Conceived by and starring Mr. Ewing. At the John Houseman Studio Theatre.

`ALI" is a tour de force for playwright-performer Geoffrey C. Ewing. Mr. Ewing conceived the tribute to Muhammad Ali and gives an impressive performance as the three-time heavyweight boxing champion who began his career as Cassius Clay. Steadily on the move in the simulated ring and adjacent quarters designed by Sirocco D. Wilson, the writer-performer creates a full-length portrait of the amazing, and sometimes controversial, black prize- fighter.

The evening begins casually as Ali (Mr. Ewing) introduces himself, shakes hands with audience members, and asks: "How y'all doin'?" Moving slowly on account of a physical disability, he observes, "I haven't fought in eight years ... haven't won in 12." But this is a philosophical ex-champ who, in his own words, is "gettin' wiser instead of worser."

Ali's reminiscences trace his boxing career from his triumph as a 1960 Olympic gold medalist. He recalls beating great odds to capture the heavyweight title from Sonny Liston. He relishes the "Thrilla in Manila" fight with Joe Frazier. He regained the title for an unprecedented third time by defeating Leon Spinks.

The stage memoir covers more than Ali's ring exploits. While touching but briefly on his marriages, the ex-fighter goes into great detail about his experiences as a Black Muslim, his stand against the Vietnam War, and his ultimate vindication by the Supreme Court.

Along with the physical side of the performance - the push-ups, some fast work with a punching bag, and the frequent shadow boxing - "Ali" also offers moments of charm and lightness. One such moment occurs when "The Greatest" ad libs a poem for a small admirer. Under Stephen Henderson's direction, the physically rugged Mr. Ewing responds to the personal and highly individual qualities of a great sports hero who is also a highly complex individual. The result is a solid piece of biographical theater. The production's use of Nat "King" Cole recordings adds an appropriate musical touch.

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