A ridiculous foray into a mixed-up world where junior detectives like Nancy Drew, Encyclopedia Brown, and the Hardy Boys teach the police their business, while also showing more of their human dark side than those blue-bound hardcover books ever let on.
Junior Sleuths, written by Richard Hemphill, is really funny. I read all those books as a kid, and the script finds some ingenious ways to mock pretty much every aspect of them. For example, Leroy Brown’s inexplicable obsession with “fortnights,” which I’d completely forgotten in the nearly two decades since I last read about him, sent me reeling with delight along with countless other small nods of mocking homage. The mockery extends to the thoroughly unrealistic do-goody worlds these sleuths inhabit by recasting them with a lot more of the dark side of the human condition than was ever before evinced in 50s-idyllic Bayport.
The directorial choices (by Gabby Lazarovitz) in this show really work well with the script by playing up shared and distinct silly quirks of each of the junior detectives as a means of characterization. The costumes are cleverly cartoonish, with fake mustaches and jackets assisting character changes with humorous results. The ever-bobbing deceased Mr. Hardy was a particular favourite of mine. The projections and sound design also added a lot of comedic value while carrying the plot and clarifying the setting of the fast-paced scene changes.
This show’s principal shortcoming is that it does have a more-or-less completely unnecessary dénouement. The play ends on a profoundly strange note that seems to have been inserted mostly for shock value, though it does continue the discussion (addressed throughout the play) of the sexual realities of life for these characters, whose canonical literary existence is distinctly sterile. I get it. I just don’t think it was warranted or necessary.
That said, if you can bear the five or so minutes of extra jokes at the end without undue stress, this show is sure to score a resonant hit to your funny bone.
Junior Sleuths written by Richard Hemphill
Directed by Gabby Lazarovitz
Playing at Venue #3: Academic Hall
Show times and ticket info can be found here.