Consider it a tribute to set designer Beowulf Boritt that I spent five minutes staring at his set for [Mindgame] while ignoring the wonderful Keith Carradine. Already slightly off-kilter from the story about an insane asylum (and Carradines ferocious performance as Dr. Farquhar), I spent far too much time examining the doctors office on stage in an effort to convince myself that I wasnt losing my marbles, too.
Because thats the affect that Anthony Horowitzs new play will have on you. Just when you feel comfortably blasé about whats happened in the first act thanks to infamous film director Ken Russells sneaky direction, Horowitz, Boritt and Russell all conspire to pull the rug out from under you in the second act.
In an effort to preserve the twists and turns of Mindgame, Ill try to be necessarily vague. True crime novelist Mark Styler (Lee Godart) has come to an insane asylum to interview notorious serial killer Easterman as part of the research for his latest book. But nothing seems quite right. Theres a distressing lack of security throughout the property, music suddenly blares from the speakers then just as quickly shuts off, Dr. Farquhar (The q is silent and the h is redundant, Carradine explains) had no idea that Styler was arriving, and Nurse Plimpton (Kathleen McKenny) is wearing a hot pink wig and a drug stores sexy nurse Halloween costume. And though the first acts twist is seen a mile off, the thudding hints and plodding exposition are all brilliant red herrings on the parts of Horowitz and Russell to distract us from whats really going on.
Going toe-to-toe with Carradine, Godart is quite good in the less flashy role of the perplexed and terrified Styler, while McKenny is a hilarious delight as the tarted up nurse (though she relies a bit too much on lowering her voice an octave or two to drive a joke home). But Mindgame is Carradines show all the way. Delivering cryptic dialogue in a dry voice edged with contempt, and flinging his lanky frame around the stage with abandon, Carradine makes even the most sudden of shifts in tone seem perfectly natural.. And that he somehow manages to not be completely upstaged by that tricky set is a testament to his charisma and potent talent.
Playwright Horowitz, meanwhile, deserves a great deal of credit for writing a play that never professes to be anything more than a particularly puzzling romp, without saddling his characters with painful philosophical ponderings. And the barbed exchanges that Farquhar and Styler spend the entire show exchanging give Carradine and Godart the rare chance to spit out the kind of witty dialogue so rarely seen on the New York stage these days, which both do with relish. At just over two hours, Mindgame is a delicious striptease of a show that wisely never quite goes all the way.
[Open run. SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam St. (betw. 6th Ave. and Varick St.), 212-691-1555, $64.50–$74. ]