Some critics were not warm to the production, but audiences feasted on a stylish staging by David Warren, and juicy performance and text choices that found new life in a script that, in different hands, could have played out as a museum piece.
Boasting heart-stopping tension, stylish Jazz Age period clothes, a single set and a small cast, one wondered, "Why isn't this play done more often?"
In the end, ticket sales weren't brisk enough to keep the Drama Dept. revival going. By its final performance, Rope will have played a total of 14 previews and 23 performances.
Part of the production's power, some said, was due to the space itself: In the intimate 200-seat Zipper Theatre on West 37th Street, you felt like you were in the same claustrophobic room as the characters. In the drama, which was to have played through Jan. 15, 2006, Sam Trammell and Chandler Williams are Oxford students (and lovers) who snuff out a cohort, stuff him in a chest, and invite friends (including the boy's father) over for a supper, serving sandwiches atop the makeshift coffin. (The tale is best known as a film by Alfred Hitchcock.)
The play was inspired by the story of the "thrill killers" Leopold and Loeb. In a choice that likely wasn't seen in the early productions of the play (first called Rope's End on Broadway in 1929), Trammell and Williams' characters, Brandon and Granillo, are seen embracing. They share a secret beyond their crime.
When they freely show their affection in the company of jaded young Wildean war veteran Rupert Cadell, played by a seething and tart Zak Orth, the act helps to prompt Cadell's fury in ways that make you see complex motivations in the play's resolution.
The play's climax seems enriched by Rupert's repression and jealousy in the face of Brandon and Granillo's displays of affection. The choices made by director Warren and his cast had theatregoers talking after the fact.
The Zipper is at 336 W. 37th Street. The revival is presented by Drama Dept., True Love Productions, highbrow entertainment and The Zipper.
The cast of Rope includes Christopher Duva, Ginifer King, John Lavelle, Lois Markle and Neil Vipond.
The remaining schedule is Dec. 19 at 8 PM, Dec. 20 at 8 PM, Dec. 21 at 3 PM and 8 PM Dec. 22 at 8 PM and Dec. 23 at 3 PM and 8 PM.