Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap is sixty years old and has run for over twenty five thousand performances—though the machine seems to be self-perpetuating, its legendary run inspiring new audiences to attend a work that is horribly dated and only vaguely entertaining. I make this point to emphasize my confusion at the current revival of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ unfinished novel that is self-consciously campy but seemingly unaware that the genre has been so for over a half century. With agonizing consistency, actors drop suspicious lines, jerk hammily at the audience with guilty or malicious faces while the orchestra farts out a trite, implicating musical chord. But the same thing was happening in London some forty years before the fall of Communism. Any director or writer who thinks Drood is bringing something fresh to the parlor mystery does not deserve a voice on Broadway.
The gimmick, admittedly, is inspired. Through a framing device, we are told that since Dickens was never able to finish his novel, we, the audience, must do so for him. After a tedious setup I won’t bother to regurgitate—it involves brokenhearted men, apparently virginal women, foreign royalty, devout priests, etc.—we are allowed to vote on an ending. But by the time Drood reaches this point, we have been inundated for two hours with a cast that is excruciatingly proud of it own cleverness. At least Peter and the Starcatcher—another recent, awful pantomime—was coming up with new terrible material.
Admittedly, I am not one for audience participation. Nonetheless, Drood swallowed me up with its oppressive giddiness, an emotion unlikely to be shared by anyone outside the cast and crew. Leaving the theater, its single note ringing horribly in my ears, I could not help but think of Tom Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound, a metatheatrical masterpiece that also involved drawing an audience into a murder mystery. Originally produced in 1968, it is still fresher, funnier, and more relevant than this self-congratulatory tripe.