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The Doubtful Guest ****1/2

The Bishop family are horribly distressed.  They have a tale to tell about an incident that has occurred to them, and they have hired a theatre space in order to explain themselves.

So begins a production that is so ridiculously silly that any full explanation will only raise further questions.  The Doubtful Guest is based on a cultish novel by Edward Gorey.  Gorey’s work combined odd drawings and humorous poetry to convey its story.  Here, theatre company Hoipolloi have adopted a combination of high-theatrical absurdity with a touch of gothic, making a production that at first looks sinister but is actually rather warm and fuzzy.

It is also a play within a play within a play.  The Bishop family have never performed in a theatre before, and they are convinced that most of the audience have never watched a performance, so they spend half the time explaining themselves.  These moments are actually the production’s funniest as there are some clever insights into theatrical conventions.

The production will probably split audiences.  The performance I saw had half the audience in hysterics while the other half sat with straight, confused faces and crossed arms.  It really is a matter of taste; you’re either willing to embrace its shenanigans and over-the-top plot or not.  I was, and I thoroughly loved it.

So, in the end, what’s it all really about?  I’ll give the best answer this production allows: it’s about 85 minutes.

Originally written for What’s Onstage.com.

Playing at the Traverse until August 30.

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