Writers: Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert
Director: Bob Tomson
If a little humour goes a long way in suspense thrillers, the comedy on display in Catch Me If You Can is the equivalent of a long haul flight. Written in the early 1960s by Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert, who also co-wrote the hilarious book forHow To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, the play revolves around the disappearance of ad executive Daniel Corban’s new wife from their honeymoon cabin in the Catskill Mountains of upper New York State.
The detective in charge of the case, Gray O’Brien’s Inspector Levine, is initially dismissive – it’s Labor Day weekend and he has other cases to investigate – which only adds to Corban’s concern. And then a woman turns up claiming to be Elizabeth Corban, but Daniel ( Patrick Duffy) maintains that she is not his wife.
Weinstock and Gilbert’s script fizzles with one-liners, even when it risks being weighed down by the sheer volume of sexism on display. Most of this comes from the mouth of O’Brien’s detective, who maintains that if a woman looking the way “Elizabeth” (Linda Purl) turned up claiming to be his wife, he’d take her without complaint. O’Brien plays Levine as blissfully ignorant of how uncouth he is being, a portrayal which helps rescue the comedy of his character from the bonfire of sixty-year-old sexist language.
Duffy uses his amiable good guy persona to good effect here, as the woman claiming to be his wife begins to persuade those around him that his increasing protestations about her identity are the result of a lifetime of ill mental health. There are moments in the script where it seems that Weinstock and Gilbert intended for their lead character to be rather more explosive than Duffy, who is so much more softly spoken than the rest of the cast that he is seemingly the only cast member to wear a head mic. But under Bob Tomson’s direction, this portrayal serves to enhance the confusion Corban feels as he tries to assert his own sanity, aware that as he does so he only sounds as irrational as his “wife” claims him to be.
A lovely second act turn from Hugh Futcher as eccentric local storeowner Sidney, who saw the “original” Mrs Corban and therefore becomes a critical link to Corban’s sanity, helps keep the twists coming thick and fast while maintaining a level of comedy that, while never descending into farce, ensures that the laughs are long and heartfelt.
Thankfully, the production is just as strong on the plotting of the thriller as it is in the humour. Duffy and Purl, partners in real life, fizz against each other when left alone, Purl showing a range that is purposely hidden in company. With O’Brien, they form a strong trio around which is formed a classy, brassy comedy suspense thriller.
Continues until 16 April 2022