Startling moment No. 1: Dan Hodge, director of Tom Stoppard's clever one-act

The Real Inspector Hound

in Curio Theatre's new little venue, finishes his opening-night welcoming speech and then lies down on the floor.

Startling moment No. 2: Nothing happens. For quite a while. We all sit quietly and examine the set (designed by Paul Kuhn), which includes all the usual melodramatic Manor House rubbish (Oriental carpet, old-fashioned phone, crepe-draped portrait, etc., etc.) with Hodge still on the floor behind a chaise longue.

Startling moment No. 3: A man in the audience says, quite loudly, "You can't start with a pause." Turns out you can. And they have. And off we go.

Startling moment No. 4: During the faux intermission, the phone starts to ring onstage. It rings and rings. A theater critic in the audience is finally irritated enough to answer it. To his and our astonishment, he holds the receiver out to his fellow critic sitting in the audience and says, "It's for you." One of the great transgressive events in contemporary drama.

Because The Real Inspector Hound is both a murder mystery and a parody of a murder mystery, I can't give away too much, except to say that everybody's playing it to the hilt: Liam Castellan and Ryan Walter are the theater critics who get swept up in the drama they are supposed to just watch; Rachel Gluck and Jennifer Summerfield are the glamorous rivals for the love of a mysterious stranger (Steve Carpenter), while Mrs. Drudge (Aetna Gallagher) serves tea at great length. There's an odd, menacing brother-in-law in a wheelchair (Joshua L Browns). And how could the proceedings proceed without the Police Inspector Hound (CJ Keller), who may or may not be the Real Inspector Hound.

Would the play be funnier with more polish? Probably. Would the production benefit from a proscenium stage? Probably. But why cavil? I echo the pompous critic in the "audience" who says, as he scribbles in his notebook, "Here one is irresistibly reminded of Voltaire's cry, 'Voila.' " And that, I figure, about covers it.

The Real Inspector Hound

Through Dec. 29, Curio Theatre at 4740 Baltimore Ave. (new entrance at corner of 48th St. & Baltimore Ave.).

8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Tickets: $15-$20. Information: 215-525-1350,