No clue why suburban Maryland’s two big theaters are staging vintage mysteries at the same time, but plainly something’s afoot. Bethesda’s Round House Theatre is still in the clutches of the classic film noir “Double Indemnity,” and now the Olney Theatre Center is dusting off Anthony Shaffer’s 1970 “Sleuth.”
You could call it an anti-insurance insurgency, because both dramas involve murder plots to collect on bogus claims. It’s also a stab at heightened style, and if this “Sleuth” ultimately isn’t quite brash enough to fully pull off its caper, at least it’s less handcuffed than the adapted-from-a-novel-that-became-a-great-movie “Indemnity.”
Shaffer’s stage script, featuring a cold-blooded mystery writer and the dashing young man who’s trying to make off with the writer’s wife, ran for over a thousand performances in London and on Broadway. It won a Tony Award for best play and was converted into a 1972 movie with Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine, and it still keeps the audience guessing. Are the two rivals, who suddenly see eye to eye about which of them should get the wife, really in cahoots? Or is someone setting up a double-cross?