A Kick in the Teeth in the Valley: PL.A.Y Noir 2015
Just after World War II, a new style of storytelling became dominant. Rejecting the brightly-lit world of people finding their heart’s desires, Noir showed the other side. Losers and the luckless found no pot of gold at the end of their rainbow. During the years when this style was big, one city came to represent all its empty dreams and disappointments: Los Angeles, the City of Angels whose residents often turned out to be anything but angelic.
PL.A.Y Noir seeks to keep this bleak yet bracing style alive. The annual festival, a collection of six short noir plays staged in North Hollywood, is going strong in its fifth year. This year’s collection of stories veers from humor to gritty drama to show the old style still has plenty of relevance in the 21st century.
The evening’s performance starts off with “The Ox Emerald.” This story takes a Chandleresque approach to its story of a stolen diamond; the honest hero uncovers a plot to smuggle and steal a valuable bauble out of Kansas City. In this case, though, the hero finds the humor in the machinations of the people he investigates (probably helped by the fact that this actor, Richard Lee Warren, is a standup comedian as well).
Next up is “The Hour,” the most farcical point in the show. This play by Susan Goodell involves a police investigation upended by Daylight Savings Time. The interrogation scenes are hard-boiled and humorous.
The third show, “I Brought Eggs” by cast member Rich Cassone, is the dramatic showstopper of the evening. A tight, claustrophobic story of an unhappy couple that works because it feels like a lost piece by James M. Cain, but also due to the work of stars Roxanne Jaeckel and James Elden.
After a short intermission, a unique approach is taken by the play “Silhouettes” by Daniel Weisman. The four actors in this piece literally share the spotlight. As each tells his or her part of the twisty story, only that person is illuminated on stage. Weisman’s clever approach to plotting extends to this innovation in staging.
James Elden’s “Bank and Trust” depicts a pair of schemers and the extent they will go to achieve their goals. As with much classic noir, the opening murder reveals plenty of dry rot underneath seemingly ordinary people.
The final play, “Wild Cards” by David Galanter, plays with both card games and the proto-noir story, “The Maltese Falcon.” With characters named Jack Spades, Humphrey Spades and Brigid Astor, this story concludes the evening on a light note.
Anyone attending PL.A.Y Noir will pick up on the sheer enjoyment the cast takes in their work. Rich Cassone told me after the show that he used to go every year until he was asked to join the cast last year; the only disappointment is that he cannot watch the show any more. Each actor has at least two roles which allows them to show off their talents to best effect. In between each of the plays, they reenact radio commercials from the 1940s, to which they also bring a great deal of energy. If an evening of drama that both respects and plays with the conventions of noir appeals to you, a trip to NoHo to check out PL.A.Y Noir is a must.
Punk Monkey Productions presents PL.A.Y Noir at The Actor’s Workout Studio, 4735 Lankershim Boulevard, North Hollywood. Through September 20. Fridays and Saturdays @ 8 P.M. Sundays @ 2 P.M. For more information or for tickets: www.facebook.com/playnoir.
Louis Burklow (aka, Hollywood Country Boy), Senior Staff Writer, Phoenix Genesis
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