The most irritating thing about Catch Me If You Can – a comedy/thriller now at South Park Theatre – is that according to the International Rules of Theater Criticism I can’t reveal any plot twists and it’s especially against the Code to reveal surprise endings.
But the thing is that if I can’t talk about the ending then all I can say is Catch Me If You Can is a lousy play. For the longest time the action is so unbelievable, the coincidences so ludicrous, the “mystery” elements so unsupported it’s impossible to take any of it seriously. I’ve sat through lots of badly written mysteries in my and figured this was just another iteration.
Catch Me If You Can continues through August 18. South Park Theatre, 412-831-8552.
In the last five minutes, however, writers Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert reveal a completely unexpected twist which throws everything in a new, and flattering, light. The plot finally makes sense and all those convenient coincidences don’t seem so coincidental. The ending is actually sort of clever …
… but you’ve got to wade through two hours of what appears to be really bad writing to get to it.
In 1965 Weinstock and Gilbert adapted the show from by a French play by Robert Thomas and it played on Broadway for less than three months. Even that seems a long time for something like this … until you remember that tickets were only eight dollars back then.
The play is set in a resort cabin in the Catskills (a very handsome set by Sandy Boggs.) Newlywed Daniel Corban is waiting for word about Elizabeth, his new bride who disappeared three days ago. A joke-spewing, rumpled Colombo-styled police inspector leads the investigation but hasn’t have any leads.
When Elizabeth comes walking through the door it looks like Daniel’s problem is over – except that he claims the woman isn’t his wife. He’s never seen her before and wants her gone. Elizabeth, on the other hand, tells the inspector that Daniel has been under a great deal of stress lately and she’s worried he’s on the verge of another mental collapse. The inspector doesn’t know who to believe.
To give just a tiny bit away (and it comes out in the first scene so it’s not too much of a reveal) once Daniel and Elizabeth are alone she admits she’s a phony and is there to have Daniel institutionalized and then steal his money. The bulk of the play is – as the title suggests – Daniel’s struggle to prove the woman’s out for no good before she can have him carted off or killed.
In a nimbly-paced production with actors schooled in this kind of boulevard comedy – a middlebrow style of theater now very much out of fashion – you might not notice the inherent flaws in the script. But this production lacks both the pace and style to put such an old-fashioned sort of script over the finish line. Michael Shahen gets his laughs as the inspector and Erin McAuley brings to Elizabeth a few flashes of venom, but, really, the whole’s a slog … up until those last five minutes. It’s up to you whether you want to wait or not.