Writers: Jack Weinstock & Willie Gilbert
Director: Bob Thomson
Not to be confused with the 2002 film of the same name directed by Steven Spielberg (and the subsequent musical based on it), this Catch Me If You Can is a small ensemble thriller that debuted on Broadway in 1965. Based on a French play by Robert Thomas, this American version was written by Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert, sketch comedy and television writers who also contributed to the book for the 1961 musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. The wit that Weinstock and Gilbert brought to How to Succeed… is also evident here, and despite Bill Kenwright’s publicity department marketing this as a “gripping thriller of twists and turns”, this would be much better categorized as a comedy mystery, although there is no debate that there are twists aplenty.
To reveal too much of the plot would lessen the effect of the story but this much can be revealed: Inspector Levine is called to a remote house in the Catskills Mountains in upstate New York to investigate the disappearance of Elizabeth Corban. Her newly-wed husband Daniel is frantic and is demanding that Levine do everything in his power to locate her after she left the house following an argument three days prior. Shortly after, Daniel is visited by the local priest Father Kelleher who brings him a gift – the return of his wife. However, Daniel vehemently states that the woman claiming to be Elizabeth is an imposter, and with everyone supporting the fact that she is indeed Elizabeth, Daniel finds himself questioning their motives and perhaps even his own sanity. It’s an intriguing premise and the script has an excellent way of continuously unfolding the plot to reveal deeper and more puzzling developments, which all lead to a surprisingly satisfying denouement.
Patrick Duffy plays Daniel. Yes, Patrick Duffy. As in Bobby Ewing in Dallas, as well as The Man from Atlantis. This is a good marketing tool for the show and the main audience seem to be made up of women of a certain age who will well recall Duffy appearing in the most famous shower scene since Janet Leigh checked in to the Bates Motel. Duffy has a gentle, easy-going persona with great charisma that clearly comes across the footlights. Unfortunately that makes him completely miscast as Daniel Corban in this play. The role requires someone who can portray mounting frustration with the impossible situation in which he finds himself, as well as occasionally show a fiery side. Several times he is told to “stop shouting” despite him never raising his voice. In fact Duffy comes across as such a nice guy that it is impossible to imagine him shouting at all. His gentle delivery also makes some of his lines difficult to decipher which is a real problem in a play that requires the audience’s undivided attention in order to keep up with the labyrinthine plot.
Linda Purl plays Elizabeth Corban (or does she?!). Corban may be vaguely familiar as a regular on season ten of Happy Days and from Matlock where she played the titular character’s daughter. Purl is required to play various facets of her character and does so very well, although the real standout of the central three performers is Gray O’Brien who plays Inspector Levine with a world-weary wit and sarcasm that is pitch perfect. There are several other supporting characters including Ben Nealon doing his best with the rather thankless role of Father Kelleher, and Hugh Futcher as local deli store owner Sidney who may hold the key the Daniel’s problems. Futcher gives Sidney a wonderful eccentricity which along with his comical look, makes him seem like he has just wandered in from a 1940’s Hollywood screwball comedy. The cast is rounded out by Paul Lavers and Chloe Zeitounian as Daniel’s boss and his “wife”. Julie Godfrey’s rustic cabin set is impressive yet simple and functional, and Bob Thomson’s direction manages to keep the very talky script engaging without ever seeming contrived.
Catch Me If You Can is a strong and surprisingly funny play and it is puzzling that it isn’t more well known. Everything about this production serves the script very well, with one really unfortunate exception. This reviewer would love to see more of Mr Duffy on the British stage, but desperately hopes that this will be in far more suitable roles to match his obvious talents. In the meantime, this is still good enough to suggest that you catch it if you can.
Runs until 19th March 2022