Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Red Herring"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2005 by Carl A. Rossi


"RED HERRING"

by Michael Hollinger
directed by Courtney A. O’Connor

Maggie Pelletier … Sarah Newhouse
Frank Keller; Priest; Major Hartwell … Barlow Adamson
Lynn McCarthy; Clerk … Allison Clear
James Appel; Woody; Harry; Bartender … Marc Harpin
Mrs. Kravitz; Mrs. McCarthy; Mrs. Van Nostrand … Leslie Dillen
Andrei Borchevsky; Petey; Dr. Kasden; Herbert; Corpse … Richard Snee

Trinity Rep’s THE MOLIÈRE IMPROMPTU did not make me laugh out loud but I did smile at its foolery; over at the Lyric Stage, Michael Hollinger’s RED HERRING, a film noir-screwball comedy, soon had me glumly plugging through three love stories circa 1952 involving a G-man and a G-woman cracking a spy ring, Senator Joe McCarthy’s daughter and a cheerful lad who secretly works for the Reds, and a Russian fisherman and his ever-plotting landlady, ending in three Quaker weddings where the Goods and the Bads all find happiness, simultaneously. Mr. Hollinger does not seem to know film noir well enough to send it up --- for starters, his mock-hardboiled dialogue belongs to the gloomily romantic noir of the 1940s rather than the paranoiac noir of the 1950s (i.e. THE BIG SLEEP versus KISS ME DEADLY) --- and he is oblivious to the genre’s built-in sardonic humor that could have guided him out of his piled-up corner (John Cuff’s lighting design is equally unimaginative; he should have swathed everything in the requisite shadows, street lamps and neon signs --- and why are Rodgers & Hammerstein songs played through the sound system instead of saxophone wails?). There is a clever long-distance phone call with delayed back-and-forth exchanges, a reflective bar scene that allows two of the characters to philosophize (and humanize) over vodka sipped from spoons, and a recurring line “Is it a number?” that is suggestive in context; otherwise, RED HERRING is but another of those extended sketches being passed off as stage comedies, nowadays. I sat there like Buster Keaton; the majority of the audience did not --- would they have laughed as heartily had Mr. Hollinger set his tale in today’s times with Iraqui suicide bombers declaring that they, too, need love, understanding and forgiveness?

Courtney A. O’Connor has directed with a briskness that only adds confusion to the already convoluted plot and I salute her actors for doing their damnedest to make their show catch fire. If I continue to find Sarah Newhouse as hard as a rock at least here she is a sun-warmed one and Barlow Adamson is drifting more and more towards silly-ass roles and farther from his unique apologetic burliness. I’ve only seen Richard Snee in comedy, mainly the dese-and-dose kind; if I never behold his Willy Loman I’ll settle for the dapperness he displayed in the Lyric’s LEND ME A TENOR, three seasons ago. Marc Harpin has a chorus boy’s bounce and cuteness --- that is meant as a compliment --- and when I look into Leslie Dillon’s eyes, I see comical madwomen yearning to be free…. The evening’s true nostalgia rests on Allison Clear whose performance as McCarthy’s daughter is an uncanny impersonation of Laura DiNapoli, the little comedienne who twinkled here for a few seasons and when last I heard had swapped Beantown for the Big Apple. Watching Ms. Clear’s jerky movements and listening to her deliberately clipped, nasal tones made me miss Ms. DiNapoli all the more --- but even Ms. DiNapoli couldn’t make me smile, let alone laugh, at RED HERRING.

"Red Herring" (18 February - 19 March)
LYRIC STAGE COMPANY OF BOSTON
140 Clarendon Street, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 437-7172

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