NEW YORK - "Mindgame," Anthony Horowitz's English mystery thriller, is death by exposition. And the weapon of choice is talk, talk, talk — and more talk.
This wordy suspense-fest, which opened Sunday at off-Broadway's Soho Playhouse is staggeringly slow, done in by an excess of verbiage that is as exhausting as it is preposterous.
The show, which stars Keith Carradine, suffers from a severe identity crisis. It isn't scary enough to induce chills or funny enough to be a spoof of those tweedy, spooky dramas the British devour with regularity.
The convoluted plot — or at least the story which begins the play — concerns a writer (Lee Godart) who visits a hospital for the criminally insane. He's hoping to interview a notorious serial killer, but first must get past the man in charge, the eccentric and more than a bit creepy Dr. Farquhar, portrayed by Carradine.
The actor scored quite a coup on Broadway in the early '90s as the ingratiating star of "The Will Rogers Follies." Carradine displayed a laconic charm in the musical, a charm that has been replaced here by a bad case of overemoting. A plummy accent. A wild-eyed demeanor. And a smarmy sense of the sinister.
But then he and Godart are stuck in a deadly situation — forced by the playwright to recount at length the history of the mass murderer the writer wants to interview for his next book.
The parade of information is endless, and director Ken Russell lets it ramble. Russell, making his New York stage directorial debut, is the man who gave us such memorable movies as "Women in Love," ''The Devils" and "The Music Lovers." In "Mindgame," he seems at sea, allowing the actors to slog their way through some of the most absurd dialogue heard on a New York stage in a long time.
More than a little could be cut from their leaden conversations, which, at times, includes a third actor: poor Kathleen McNenny, tarted up for much of the evening in a skimpy white nurses outfit. This campy angel of mercy looks as if she just escaped from a bad porno flick.
Of course, in thrillers, nothing is what it seems to be. The aim is to keep the audience guessing. But with only three characters on stage, the possibilities for surprise are limited and you most likely will figure out the twists and turns long before the folks on stage do.
One of the play's more intriguing features is its contracting set, a cozy office designed by Beowulf Boritt. Without giving too much away, let's just say that it has more theatrical life — and movement — than anything else on stage.
The real mystery is how "Mindgame" ever ended up in front of an audience in the first place.