note: entire contents copyright 2001 by Chuck Galle
I must confess I do not know how often classic film noir is presented in a live staged form, but I would guess itıs not that frequently. Gary Locke, director of the current offering at Playersı Ring in Portsmouth NH, has successfully accomplished this transition in a beautiful and charming production of the famous mystery story which originally starred Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews. The sense of dark pervades the set with itıs large-square checker-board floor, silver-gray walls, white trim and the imposing black, gray, silver portrait of Laura, a marvelous piece of work done expressly for this production by Marcy Yerkes. The set is swaddled in soft lighting and accented with the deep blue antique Chinese vase upon the mantle, even the liquor in the black and white labeled bottles is the deep color of Coke; white wine is a translucent pale white. Gary and Tim Robinson have created a set which sets the tone. A very grayscale tone. Stan Zabeckiıs careful lighting keeps the stage gray without straining the eyes.
To enhance the sense of the 40s the lights come up on the fine jazz duet of Jennifer Batchelder Savage, vocalist and David Stebbins, saxophonist, blowing the title tune, in the little corner of the room like a hole-in-the-wall night club. The trailing mournful notes of the sax left the audience I was in so lost in reverie we forgot to applaud, and then the lights were coming up on the thrust stage and it was too late. It wasnıt lack of appreciation, I think we just didnıt want to disturb the atmosphere. Barbara Newton has costumed this cast in appropriate garb: Detective Mark McPherson is dressed in a rumpled ill fitting dark suit, Danny Dorgan, the boy downstairs, in shades of gray, Wlaldo Lydecker, the pompous, precious columnist in soup and fish, Shelby Carpenter, Lauraıs erstwhile boyfriend in brownish double-breasted affluence, Bessie the maid in cream and black. Locke, himself, shows up twice as the dun-suited plains-clothes cop, Olsen. The sense of being at a black and white movie with live performers is palpable, irresistible, delicious. Moreover, the jazz duets resume at the start of each of the three acts, and finish off the play after the curtain call, swinging us with "Ghost Of A Chance", "Body And Soul", and "A Sunday Kind Of Love", bringing the whole sense of being transported back in time into reality, or illusion, or artifice - whichever it may be.
Gary and cast haven't missed a trick in this melding of film and stage. The moods shift from melancholy to alienation, to ambiguity, to guilt, evil and paranoia. Laura swirls tobacco smoke about the atmosphere a couple times, just like in the movies. The detective keeps his audience off balance, seeming to know things the audience can't be sure of, just like in the movies. Suspects seem to drift in and out of favor, surely guilty one moment, surely not the next, just like in the movies. And, just like in the movies, here is a bigger than life cast performing their hearts out for us. Andrew Fling, who wowed us in "Red Noses" as the stuttering orator, turns neatly from nice neighborly boy from downstairs to lusting, maybe murderously pushy lecher. Tim Robinson, who seems to be pushing his range to itıs fullest these days, gives precious a whole new meaning as the self-indulgent Waldo Lydecker, his rigidity charming but dangerous as he wraps his tongue around feats of verbal hyperbole. Richard Harris, in his second impressive role at the Ring, handles the enigmatic detective, Mark McPherson, easily, with that comfortable kind of acting that doesnıt seem to be acting at all, but simply is the character being himself. Kristan Raymond Robinson leads us through Lauraıs personal ordeal in this drama such that it is extremely difficult to know how to read her. She doesnt quite allow the audience to trust her, much as they would like to, this gesture or that, a look of willfulness here, a sly hidden smile of satisfaction there. (And sheıs only a dream.) Robin Nitschelm belongs in this cast, filling out the ensemble fully as the maid Bessie, falling under suspicion herself, of course. Chris Savage attracts suspicion to himself with almost everything he does, from the close-to-the-body striking of a cigarette lighter, to turning his head just out of sight during some speeches by other characters. Each actors performance is nicely sculpted to incite distrust, in the truest noir tradition of anxiety and menace. A chilling offering, right down to the suddenly very animated ending. This showıs a great romp. Go see it!
"Laura" is being performed at Playersı Ring for only one more weekend, November 23rd through the 25th. Friday and Saturday at 8:00PM, Sunday at 7:00PM. Call 603-436-0566 for more information and to make reservations. Also see the website at www.playersring.org.