Chicago Theatre Review
Film Noir Live on Stage
D.O.A. – Strawdog Theatre
The air is thick with haze. The light is piercing and direct, creating dramatic shadows that reflect the sultry mood of the story. A shot is fired breaking the silence. Bathed in a soundtrack of cool jazz, created by sound designer Heath Hays, each character enters from the house and strikes their pose before slinking off into the blackness of the void. The mood has been set, the characters have been introduced and something mysterious and ominous is about to go down.
It’s once again 1950, and in this theatrical version of a film noir classic, adapted and directed with style, wit and punch drunk authenticity by Elizabeth Lovelady, this long one-act deliciously captures the cinematic precision, melodrama and romance of the genre. A man stumbles down the hallway of a police station to report a murder…his own. The play flashes back in time to the week before, to the office of California accountant Frank Bigelow. He’s about to leave Paula, his secretary and long-time lady love, for a week’s vacation in San Francisco. When he arrives at his hotel he’s greeted by some hearty partying salesmen at a convention, ready to drag Bigelow with them for a night on the town.
Unbeknownst to Bigelow, someone switches his drink for one laced with poison. Upon waking the next morning, Frank feels terribly ill. Bigelow seeks a doctor’s advice and learns that he’s been infected with a luminous toxin that shows up under black light. With only a few days left to live, Frank sleuths about San Francisco, trying to solve the mystery of who’s tried to kill him, and for what reason. Slowly he unravels a complicated web of shady crimes committed by a cast of notorious, desperate men and women.
Ms. Lovelady’s direction is confident, broad-handed and brisk. She quickly moves the story along, just fast enough to keep the audience on the edge of their seats. She knows how to coax that bigger-than-life presentational film noir style of acting out of her cast, while guiding her talented ensemble through their many varied roles. Handsome, rugged leading man Mickey O’Sullivan plays Frank Bigelow with macho magnetism. Almost never offstage, Mr. O’Sullivan plows through this tension-filled story with strength and assurance. Megan Skord shows her talent and versatility playing both Paula and Jenny. Carol Ludwick is beautiful and bitchy as Mrs. Phillips and Mallory Nees is superbly tart as Ms. Rakubian, Kitty and Jane. Kelsey Shipley pours a pound of salt and vinegar into her portrayals of Ms. Foster and Elaine. Scott Cupper brings headstrong moxie to Mr. Halliday, as well as to Cadwell and Officer Lewis.
The technical achievements supporting this production are detailed and well-executed. Raquel Adorno’s black & white costumes and accessories, including black lipstick for the ladies, all play nicely upon Mike Mroch’s simple gray and black scenic design. Everyone’s splashed with John Kelly’s harsh, unforgiving illumination that creates as much shadow as light. Jamie Karas has created a range of properties that mirror the film noir palette, as well. And the stylized fights designed by R&D Choreography bring artistry to the violence of this piece.
Elizabeth Lovelady’s fine theatrical adaptation of this film noir classic has been faithfully and artistically brought to life by Strawdog Theatre. The entire production takes the audience through the smoking mirrors and onto the silver screen with these characters. The play is melodramatic, poetic and full of tongue-in-cheek nods to the genre. All that’s missing from this cinematic experience is a box of Milk Duds, a tall Coke and a big tub of popcorn.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented March 5-April 5 by Strawdog Theatre Company at their Hugen Hall venue, 3829 N. Broadway, Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling Ovation Tix at 866-811-4111 or by going to www.strawdog.org.
Additional information about this other fine area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.