Billed as a jazz musical thriller in the film noir genre, “The Wrong Son” is an ambitious tapestry that writer-composer Allen Cole first envisioned some 16 years ago. The world premiere of the completed work reveals a complex musical score, a thin storyline true to the mood of the dark B movies of the 1940s and ’50s, a stylized tone and interesting staging.
Consciously faithful to the sense of guilt associated with the genre, “The Wrong Son” does not have the depth of plot of, say, a Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett crime novel. And, as the detectives in Cole’s drama do double duty as a Greek chorus signaling the protagonist’s thought processes, they are no Sam Spade.
The play presents the doomed, fleeing protagonist and a Shakespearean-style tragic ending. But it’s unlikely this specialized, expressionist piece — totally focused on a form whose popularity peaked through the decade following World War II — will have the broad appeal of more commercially oriented pieces.
The man caught in a downward spiral is musician Ryle Rawlins, a damaged soul recently returned from the war. He moves quickly from the success of a hit single and a recording career as a pianist with his singer-fiancee to being a fugitive sought in the murder of his ex-wife. His escape route is to hitch a ride down the highway (on a dark and stormy night, needless to say), from there becoming entangled in a web of deceit, violent death and stolen identity.
Stylish production values keep interest in the show alive. The production’s highlights are the clarity of Peter Hinton’s direction and the warmth and charm of one performance: Frank Moore as the father willing to accept the wrong son gives the show its heart.
In general, however, while worthy, ambitious, musically complex and interesting in format, Cole’s opus does not give “The Wrong Son” the right touch.