If director Charles Mills was worried that Rope wouldn’t pull in the usual HART patrons, his concern was unfounded. The Waynesville theater was pretty well-attended on opening night — by a mostly-senior crowd, too, which was obviously not put off that the curtains wouldn’t be rising on a musical comedy.
The play opens on the two main characters, Phillip and Brandon, strangling a victim on a near-dark set. From there, the scene takes a sharp turn into a brightly lit party, complete with music, modern art and champagne. Over the course of the fete, the suspense builds as the guests question the moods, motives and actions of their hosts.
While each character displays certain intriguing quirks — Janice’s inability to tell a joke, Mrs. Wilson’s nosiness, Mrs. Atwater’s flaky astrological predictions — no one comes off as fully realized. Mills’ updated script causes problems — he attempts to recreate Hitchcock’s film technique of running start-to-finish in “real time,” forcing all plot evolution to occur in the moment.
By bringing the story into the present, Mills creates another issue, as well: Why would the main characters be so influenced by Nietzsche’s superman theory — the same one Hitler embraced, thus convincing the entire world that the idea was nuts by the 1940s — instead of more contemporary psychopathic notions? (Hello, Charlie Manson?)
In the effort to portray murderous intent, the (presumably gay) relationship between Brandon and Phillip is rendered almost invisible, leaving the audience with another “why” question — namely, why the two are so bonded over this murder. It’s an unfortunate omission of character development.
Despite all this, the HART crew pulls Rope off with aplomb, cruising through the 90-minute performance with a near-seamless delivery, excellent scenery and some remarkable special effects — most notably the post-party lighting.