Chicago Theatre Review
The Unusual Suspects
Heist Play – Ruckus Theatre
What comes to mind at the words Film Noir? Humphrey Bogart in a trench coat? The shadow of a well coiffed dame on the office window of a PI? Shootouts in back allies? The hardboiled black and white thrillers of the late 40‘s and 50‘s are all that true, but those classic, instantly recognizable images are but it suits and trappings. A Noir story is best defined as a long sinuous snake of a plot, or the aperitif of the mystery lover, or as Rodger Ebert put it, “The most American film genre, because no society could have created a world so filled with doom, fate, fear and betrayal unless it were essentially naive and optimistic.”
Nick (Joshua Davis) loves the old Noir classics. It’s the only thing that keeps him going through life perpetually drunk, perpetually, broke, perpetually harangued by his friends Tommy (Neal Starbird) and Marianne (Christine Vrem-Ydstie). Needing to make up the rent the trio decide to conduct the perfect heist, which turns out to be not quite so perfect. Across town veteran detective Dietrich (Karie Miller) and department rookie Tierney (Catherine Bullard) begin the long slog to discover who put a body at the backdoor of a nameless bar while the establishes proprietor (Brain Hurst) tries to keep a very drunk and dangerous man (Mike Steele) off their radar. These three stories are set on a collision course and its only a matter of time before secrets are ripped away, friendships go south, and someone ends up dead.
Mitch Vermeersch’s script crackles with the crisp and brittle speak that would make even Bogart and Bacall, and if some of the more modern scenes don’t quite pass muster, there’s always some clue to be gleaned, some diamond speech hidden in all that coal. Placed in the absurdly intimate Side Project Theater, the affect is a cinematic one, we hardly have to lean in to hear whispered conversations, are shuffled from one wretched hive to another in an eye blink and are oppressed by the soundtrack of a live Tom Waits impersonation band out in the lobby.
In this brittle tale of double-crosses and looming unknowable threats the old character formulas stand out clearer: Miller and Bullard have excellent report as the tired detective and her whip-snap new partner, Hurst brings out a different vintage of world-weariness for each character he encounters, and Davis continues to find new depths to his misery every other scene.
Just like a real Film Noir the audience doesn’t stay with Heist Play for Sympathy, or Romance, Or even action. The minute the first cigaret is lighted, or the first shot is poured or the first barb sinks, we know how this play will end: badly. Maybe even tragically, but certainly badly. The fun is seeing exactly how it gets there.
Recommended by Ben Kemper
The Side Project Theater 1439 Jarvis
Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00, Sundays at 2:00