Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

"Deadly Game" Is Unique Mystery

Cleveland Press March 5, 1964

The scene is a house in the Swiss Alps. A storm rages outside. Two elderly gentlemen are engaged at a chess board. A third sits idly to one side. A silent servant hovers over them. All are waiting for someone.

A stranger (there has to be one) arrives. He's a brash fellow, American, naturally, and a salesman. As soon as he starts guzzling fine brandy as though it were beer we know that he's an uncouth sort.

The final member of the party arrives -- another elderly man. They introduce themselves as retired men of the law -- a judge, a prosecutor and a defense attorney. The other man turns out to be a retired executioner.

THESE FELLOWS are just overgrown boys, that's what they are. They play games and they invite the stranger to join them. They like to pretend that they are back at their old business.

Before the stranger realizes what has happened -- something the audience realizes a lot sooner -- he's on trial for his life.

What suspense there is, and there is some, exists in the business of guessing how it will happen, rather than what will happen.

Playwright James Yaffe is less than subtle in leading up to each crisis. The mechanics of his play are obvious and the creaking of the machinery is noisy. There is a weakness in the character of his victim.

HE FALLS too easily into the net, his self-incriminating testimony shows a lack of guile. It's an unfair battle of wits since there is a lack of wits on one side.

Further, he is not a sympathetic character since he is revealed as a man of arrogance and selfishness. While we may feel for his hopeless plight, we really don't care much for him personally.

Still, the show has merits. The central idea is intriguing though far-fetched. There's the basic appeal of courtroom drama. The direction is paced briskly enough that the play almost makes it over the thin spots. The performances are good.

JOE HUDSON does well with the meaty role of the prosecutor. His use of a slight accent in his first few lines seemed a burden, one that he shook off shortly as his acting became less deliberate and more fluent.

Cleve Dunn gave the onetime executioner the proper amount of eccentricity to provide moments of lightness. Cliff Donley was stately as the judge and Earl Keyes sympathetic and human as the defense attorney. William Snider was brash and arrogant as the trapped man though a trifle forced.

Tom Cain's setting looked good enough to live in.