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Theater Review: Take the challenge of figuring out the truth of 'Private Eyes'

There was a concise 11-hyphenated-word-sentence describing "Private Eyes" that appeared in the News Tribune's Wave on Thursday. While clever and cute, it did, for my money, constitute too much information. It did not ruin the play that opened Thursday night at the Underground, but it did turn what should have been a thrilling fill-in-the-blank experience into a less exciting multiple-choice question. Consequently, I will not be compounding the damage by giving too much away in this review.

"Private Eyes" begins with Lisa (Kat Mandeville) auditioning for a part in a play being directed by Matthew (Jason Page). Then, they meet again under strangely similar but clearly different circumstances, and then -- well, let me just say that we are invited to reconsider everything we have seen and heard so far from a new perspective and that this is going to happen repeatedly throughout the rest of the play. For a reference point, think "Rashomon," where the disparate stories are all layers stemming from a single source.

This is a play where each scene takes place in a new reality of now, which means all scenes are real, or at least must be taken so at face value. But some scenes must be more real than others, right? But which ones? That is the question. In the second act there is a scene where a character steps forward and asserts that they are the only one to be trusted with the telling of this story. Fortunately, the play was only momentarily sidetracked and we were back to trying to figure out if this was life imitating art imitating life or art imitating life imitating art.

I absolutely love trying to figure stuff like that out. You should, too.

The sardonic Matthew is totally within Page's wheelhouse, but the character also goes through a complete emotional kaleidoscope to add to the fun. Mandeville's Lisa runs cold except for when she runs colder, but there is a reason, as well as a point at which that is no longer true, which is why Lisa is the best barometer for judging each scene and why Mandeville gives the evening's best performance. As Adrian, John Pokrzywinkski provides subtle shadings to his character that convince us this guy is, well, full of it, so you are wondering why everybody else has not figured this out. Or have they?

Completing the talented cast are Carrie Mohn as Cory, a name shared by a fast-approaching hurricane (and we all know there are no coincidences when it comes to playwrights naming characters) and Kendra Carlson as a character named Frank. I would not be telling you that much given my goal is to avoid spoilers, except you can read that in the program.

Director Nathan Carlblom has staged this play as theater in the round, which translates into rows of seats on four sides, each of which has shifting advantages and disadvantages throughout the evening, not only for seeing all of the characters, but sometimes for being able to hear them as well. Sitting 5 feet behind an actress watching her back for an entire scene is extremely odd, but for this play, all things considered, rather appropriate.

This fascinating play is, at any given moment, all about power, criticism, looking, control, truth, folly, amnesia, trophyism, art, life, love, illusion, games, passion and suspicion. Then there comes a moment in the end game when Matthew defines for Lisa what it means to be brave in a relationship and we realize that ideal is what we salvage from the train wreck played out before us.

Lawrance Bernabo is always hungry at intermission for whatever they are eating on stage in Act One.

If you go

What: "Private Eyes" by Steven Dietz

Where: The Underground, 506 W. Michigan St.

When: 7:30 tonight and Saturday, and Feb. 20-22

Tickets: $15 adults, $10 students

For information: (218) 733-7555 or