Film noir almost begs to be deflated -- and playwright Bill Robens answers the call.
As eternally cool as it is, film noir, with its supercharged style and general seriousness almost begs to be deflated — and playwright Bill Robens answers the call. In a voice redolent of cigarette smoke and wailing saxophone, “Kill Me, Deadly,” has great fun with the genre stereotypes, including a tough gumshoe whose secretary is a much better detective than he is. The world premiere production at Theater of Note succeeds on all levels, from its lush look to Kiff Scholl’s inspired direction, and its cast, with assorted thugs and a deeply duplicitous dame, is hilarious and superb.
When private detective Charlie Nickels (Dean Lemont) meets the rich Lady Clairmont (Kathleen Mary Carthy) and her daughter Veronica (Megan Bartle), the main thing he notices is the Bengal Diamond, a huge red gem she keeps on display. This stone is said to be cursed, which quickly becomes apparent as Lady Clairmont is murdered and the diamond stolen. Veronica and her odd brother Clive (Nicholas S. Williams) are immediate suspects, but then so is the fired gardener, Jaime (Phinneas Kiyomura). Or it could be the fast-talking and mysterious Mona (Kirsten Vangsness), whom Charlie might suspect if he wasn’t in love with her.
Lemont is perfectly cast as Charlie, personifying the noir hero both in his deadpan vocal delivery and physical presence. Vangsness is brilliant as the manipulative Mona, who almost trips over herself switching from seductiveness to vulnerability to selfishness, sometimes within a sentence. The actress captures this energy in a perf that sounds like a southern Liza Minnelli combined with a touch of Mae West. And Mona’s earnest rendition of the deliberately sappy song “Rainbow Dream” is comedically sublime.
Carthy is bitchily delectable as the haughty and strident Lady Clairmont, and Bartle is appropriately self-possessed and flirtatious as Veronica. Williams is excellent as the swaybacked Clive, his freaky vibe recalling Dennis Weaver’s creepy clerk in “Touch of Evil,” and Darrett Sanders is spot-on as the amiable goon Louie.
Scholl directs the show with stylish panache and quick pacing, and he gets sharp, satirical perfs from his cast. Robens knows this genre well and takes it for a manic ride, reveling in lines such as “She had a hold on me like a wolverine on a moose.” The only downside is that the show feels long and could use a bit of judicious trimming, but this is a relatively small complaint.
Davis Campbell’s set, highlighted by a car that seems to have film rear-projected on the back window, just like it was done in the movies, is efficient and effective. Kimberly Freed’s costumes are surprisingly lush and evocative, and Matt Richter’s expert lighting provides the seductive shadows that are the glory of noir.