Posted by: strugglesome | November 11, 2011

Time After Time: Brat Production’s Meanwhile

If you’re going to pick a recent period in US history and pop culture to satirize, you might as well do Film Noir. First of all, the whole private eye meets dame in distress thing is rife with gender politics, social conventions, and given how many cigarettes seem to get smoked, no shortage of cancer scares. And second of all, it’s just been used so many times. Something about the combination of pulpy mystery and streetlamp glitter seems to intrigue us and keep us coming back for more. Blame it on L.A. Confidential, blame it on Nick and Nora or Johnny Dangerously, but  the genre just wont leave our collective consciousness. Hard boiled detectives in fedoras and delicate ladies who are not all they seem to be just wont quit.

At least, they wont in Brat Production’s new play, Meanwhile…, a quick change romp through 30’s Atlantic City featuring two versitile actresses playing what seems like over 30 roles. The story is laughably complicated, and painted in such broad strokes that it’s not worth a great deal of detail. Suffice to say that it starts in the office of John Sharp (Mary McCool) a streetwise detective with a soft spot for dames who are sweet on the eye. Sugar (Sarah Doherty) is a girl with a problem. They ought to be a match made in heaven, right? But of course Sugar is an aspiring singer at a local club, run by a scheming fading beauty who dreams of bigger and better things. A sassy bellboy, several aging gangsters (one complete with tall blonde moll), a wacky drummer,  a female detective (or dick, as we are reminded ad nauseum) and many many country folk complete this cast of cartoonish characters. Can John Sharp solve the mystery of the missing box? Will he give in to his baser urges and ravish the ravishing young Sugar (who is literally just asking for it)? And what exactly is Sugar herself hiding? You don’t have to concern yourself, because all of these questions, and more, are answered over the course of this two-hour farce.

With skill and inexhaustible energy these two actresses navigate their way through  Madi Distefano’s happily chaotic script. McCool valiantly deals with the plethora of penis jokes and transitions neatly from sassy Puerto Rican maid chock-full of melodrama to experienced dick (see what I mean?) on the beat, while Doherty struts and frets her hours on the stage with piercing focus and neat timing.  Together these two ladies work to make the script’s redundencies fresh and lively and fight the stagnancy of the story with every tool in their varied arsenals. And if the play still drags and inflates itself with dead air on occasion, at least Lee Ann Etzold’s direction works to fight that tendency. The trick about a quick change show is that it depends on repetition, on consistency, and on the audience being continually amazed by what’s happening on stage. But this production relies on the same four or five gags over and over again, ignoring the possibity of subtle humor in favor of blatant blustering. And as a result the novelty wears off the concept rather too quickly, leaving us, and our two heroines/heroes, stuck with at least an hour more of exposition, contrivance and costume changes.

Staged in the increasingly used RUBA club, under the glow of the curvy golden proscenium arch, Brad Helm’s set design works well with the “quick and dirty” nature of the play itself, transforming quickly between locations and drawing a concealing curtain whenever necessary. Bobby Fabulous’ luscious and ludicrous costumes could not be more appropriate for this piece, swirling around the stage in shades of navy, magenta, pearl and maroon, coating the ladies of the show in rich and sumptuous gear and giving the gentleman well tailored togs. Paul Moffit’s lighting paints the stage in various shades of Noir-style shadows wile Andrew Nelson’s sound design and composition scores the piece with vintage appeal and gives Doherty a hilariously archaic beautifully jazzy solo song, which she executes like the star she plays, on the cusp of greatness, if only it weren’t for all those pesky murders happening all around her.

For all it’s issues, this play is sheer fun, especially if you view it with a drink or two in your hand. And luckily the show itself happens in a bar, affording it’s audience ample opportunities to booze it up and celebrate the fact that we no longer live in an age of prohibition. And it’s worth watching for the sheer pleasure of seeing these two excellent performers enjoy each other and sell every joke like Willie Loman on Speed. Besides, when was the last time you saw a good Noir-Atlantic-City-Female-Detective-Crime-Caper? Yeah. That’s what I thought.

Brat Production’s production of Meanwhile...is playing until November 19th. Tickets are available here.

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