Rope, Sense of Urgency Productions, at the Viaduct Theater. Patrick Hamilton’s 1929 potboiler is based on both the 1927 thrill killing of a Hyde Park teenager by privileged psychopaths Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb and a copycat slaughter by two Oxford University students–though the play is even more obscene than its primary source: Leopold and Loeb never stuffed the corpse into a trunk that was then used as a buffet service for the boy’s father and cousin. Murder will out, however, especially when a carelessly concealed clue exposes a not- so-perfect crime. And the two lover-murderers underestimate the acuity of Rupert, their older gay friend, a world-weary poet and war veteran. His experience of mass murder has sharpened his passion for justice if not for life. Rupert knows the difference between a cause and a crime.
Director Tim Good’s decision to dispense with British accents makes the dialogue seem quainter than it should. He also sacrifices much of the suspense for the gallows humor of Hamilton’s rather blatant dramatic irony. Also missing are the homoerotic undertones that make this as much a game of sexual hide-and-seek as homicidal cat and mouse. As the dominant partner, Ray Kasper is arrogant enough to make us feel he’s earned his fall, but neither he nor Derek Gaspar’s haunted henchman betrays the tension that should energize their risk taking. Fortunately Ian Harris’s sepulchral Rupert rises to the occasion in his final denunciation of these swinish “supermen.”