Orange County Theatre Reviews

Written by Scotty Keister 

The fictional world of the hard-boiled private eye, known in cinema as film noir, has been endlessly lampooned; its arch dialogue, cynical perspectives, femme fatales, low life criminals and world-weary detectives are wide open for ribbing. Now, Bill Robens’ “Kill Me, Deadly!” – originally produced in 2009 by Theatre of NOTE in Los Angeles – has found its way to STAGEStheatre in Fullerton. Relying on genre archetypes, well-worn hard-boiled dialogue and an impossibly complicated plot (Raymond Chandler was once asked by the producer of the filmed version of his novel “The Big Sleep,” who killed the chauffeur? to which he responded with a shrug – he had no idea), “Kill Me, Deadly!” is an often sharply written and frequently hilarious parody that is not without its faults.

The story involves private eye Charlie Nickels (Abel Miramontes) who is hired by rich society shrew Lady Clairmont (Julie Kirkman) to look into a series of death threats made against her. Lady Clairmont also happens to be in possession of the infamous Bengal Diamond, which we learn (a number of times) is cursed; it brings horrible death to all who own it. We meet a cast of characters who are all suspects: wimpy son Clive (Christopher Schuchert), over-sexed daughter Veronica (Alexis-Lynn Harding), Hispanic gardener Jaime (Ryan Gatus), sexy lounge singer Mona Livingston (Dari Kristin), and real life gangster Bugsy Siegel (Andrew Margolin). Lady Clairmont, it turns out, has more enemies than friends and, in short order, one of them does her in and makes off with the diamond. None of this really makes much sense. Plus, the way the murder is staged – in shadow play behind a screen – it is immediately clear who the murderer is.

 

This brings me to the technical pitfalls of the show. There are endless, and seemingly superfluous, set and furniture moves that only serve to distract from Charlie’s voiceover narratives that link the scenes. The story ostensibly takes place in 1947 Hollywood. Charlie motors around L.A in a car that looks straight out of ToonTown in front of a 1940s black and white projection of L.A. There is a 1960’s “pay phone” and a 1930’s desk phone. Charlie’s office is behind a folding wall that when opened occupies half the stage. Charlie performs a narrative to the audience in front of it, then walks behind the wall and enters through the door, instead of just stepping back into the scene. Every time. The show features a very cool lead-in film title sequence projected onto the rear screen, in black and white of course, complete with jazzy period music. Seems to me more use could have been made of projections to set the scene in lieu of constant set changes. Not sure why they really need all the doors, or even the car. I mention all these things because they seem to complicate what is already a confusing story and inject a hiccup into the show’s momentum. After opening night, I expect all these moves will be hastened, but I still wonder if it couldn’t have all been accomplished in a much simpler way.

Photo Courtesy: STAGEStheatre Judy Mina-Ballard, Ryan Gatus, Alexis-Lynn Harding, Julie Kirkman, Darri Kristin, Andrew Margolin, Abel Miramontes, Mehrdad Modjtahedi, Jose Orozco, Luisa Rueckert, Christopher Schucher, and Frank Tryon.

Regardless, where director Steven Biggs succeeds the most is in his spot-on casting, beginning with Miramontes as Charlie. His deadpan delivery is right out of the gumshoe handbook. He makes the dialogue crackle and drip with cynicism. Darri Kristin in the femme fatale role gives a superb comic performance and even croons a completely silly lounge song in a husky lounge singer voice – some nonsense about rainbows. Julie Kirkman handles Lady Clairmont with deadly serious hilarity, abusing everyone around her without blinking an eye. Frank Tryon as a washed-up prize fighter and a bumbling crooked cop has some fine comic moments. Judy Mina-Ballard as Charlie’s gal Friday, Ida, has a number of funny bits as she assumes a variety of roles while doing most of Charlie’s work for him. It’s a large cast, many performing numerous roles, and for the sake of brevity I can report there is not a weak link among them. Andrea Birkholm’s costumes also are snazzy and, to my eye, period perfect.

All in all, despite iffy technical aspects, it’s a really funny show. Robens’ dialogue is witty and he accurately captures the tone of the hard-boiled genre for consistent laughs. At two acts, the show runs around two hours and kept me engaged throughout. Even if you’re not a fan of film noir, as I am, you will still get the funny. Opening weekend was sold out, so it’s recommended to look into seats early. Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm, through April 15.

(Buying tickets from the link below helps support OCR writers and website)

Good Show

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