NEW YORK--If crowds roaring their appreciation at a final curtain guarantee a long run, Stacy Keach may have found in "Solitary Confinement" his biggest break since he replaced John Wood in "Deathtrap" 13 years ago. Rupert Holmes' new play and Ira Levin's old one are similar in that they're both boulevard thrillers, happy to provide audiences with a few hours of suspense sprinkled with a couple of jolting surprises.

NEW YORK–If crowds roaring their appreciation at a final curtain guarantee a long run, Stacy Keach may have found in “Solitary Confinement” his biggest break since he replaced John Wood in “Deathtrap” 13 years ago. Rupert Holmes’ new play and Ira Levin’s old one are similar in that they’re both boulevard thrillers, happy to provide audiences with a few hours of suspense sprinkled with a couple of jolting surprises.

They also require a certain virtuosity, which Keach has in spades, even if the once-keen talent of this actor has grown flabby from trashy TV gigs and theatrical junk food.

Here he plays Richard Jannings, reclusive billionaire and grand acquisitor, a man with Donald Trump’s modesty and Howard Hughes’ mental balance and social graces, controlling his world via big-screen closed-circuit TV from a 51st-floor aerie atop his corporate headquarters in Albuquerque.

The first act is so boring, pointless and expository that it’s a wonder word of mouth in the lobby doesn’t kill it off early.

Act 2, a kind of cat-and-mouse game Jannings plays with a killer, is a bit livelier. It also employs a device Holmes used in “Drood,” namely, pandering to the audience, in this case through a quiz a would-be killer must pass to save his skin.

Keach delights in stretching out the time he takes to work out the answers, in a way calculated to quicken theatergoers’ heartbeats.

But “Solitary Confinement” is clumsy and almost wholly lacking in style; every word has a phony ring, as does William Barclay’s imposing, gimmick-ridden set. All of the characters but one take part by way of a giant video screen, a situation sure totip off the play’s major surprise to at least some astute audience members, and one that makes for an oddly two-dimensional experience.

Clearly, given the B.O. response during prior runs in California and Washington, this is enough for a lot of ticketbuyers. But anyone who wants to see what can really be done creatively with live actors interacting with video should check out Blue Man Group or any night at the Kitchen, and save your money.

Solitary Confinement

(Nederlander Theater; 1,205 seats; $ 42.50 top)

Production

A Gladys Nederlander, James M. Nederlander & Charlene Nederlander and Roger L. Stevens presentation, in association with Normand Kurtz, of a play in two acts by Rupert Holmes. Broadway production supervised by Marshall W. Mason; original direction by Kenneth Frankel.

Creative

Set, art direction, William Barclay; costumes, Kathleen Detoro; lighting, Donald Holder; sound, Jack Allaway. Opened Nov. 8, 1992.

Cast

Richard Jannings ... Stacy Keach
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