Fringe Festival: "Noir" is Hard-boiled Good Fun
On Stage: ‘Law and Order,’ 1953
In the late 1940s, Hollywood created a sleazy, shadowy urban crime drama genre of movie that was later dubbed film noir by [French] critics. In these hundreds of noir movies, brutal murder mysteries took place at night, in the shadows, involved savage men and gorgeous women and always had syrupy music playing in the background (and at least one victim thrown through a window). Lately, writers and cinematographers have enjoyed making fun of these fifty-year-old ‘tough guy’ movies.
Now playwrights are poking fun, too. One of the best is Noir, by Stan Werse, set in New York City in 1950, the post-World War II era when city night clubs thrived, newspapers put out eight editions a day and the Yankees won the World Series every year. Noir, one of the 194 New York Fringe Festival plays, opened last weekend with loud gunfire and louder laughs at the Connelly Theater downtown.
The plot of Noir is simple. A bold, good looking young detective, Clay Holden, gets caught up in a complex murder investigation that centers on his shadowy, newfound girlfriend, Helen Lydecker, who insists that she is the victim of a bad guy’s scheme. To win her love, and solve the case, Holden charges off into the night after whom he believes is the killer.
Telling the tale and trying to befriend Holden is a washed up, overweight precinct cop who wears bad suits, McQue. He narrates the story for the audience and moves back and forth in it. He is joined by the head of detectives, Norbert Grimes, determined to crack the case and make the department look good.
Off in the distance, unseen but feared by all, are the bad guys.
You’ve heard of the ‘fog of war?’ Well, there is a ‘fog of crime’ too, and the playwright spreads it with enchantment.
Noir is funny from the first few lines. Playwright Werse has done a fine job of crafting a witty tribute to noir-style stories while, at the same time, writing a pretty good one himself.
The plot has everything. There is the luscious Miss Lydecker, who drapes herself around every man who can help her. We have Holden, the sleek, too-good-to-be-true cop who has a mysterious past. There is Detective Grimes, who doesn’t want the audience to know too much, and McQue, who has a long and sad history with the department.
In the end, it appears that the bad guys suspected of being bad guys were to be arrested as bad guys, but, as always in noir stories, there are a few final twists.
Noir is a very funny play with some sharp dialogue. Playwright Werse has given us colorful and clearly defined characters and a plot that rumbles this way and that with a good feel for the noir style.
Noir needs some historical help, though. The story is set in New York in 1950, but there are no scenes that really show that it is New York and not any other big city. None of the conversations gives you any idea you are in 1950, either. There is no set—absolutely nothing on stage—so the furniture and props do not tell if it is 1950 (even a single subway sign would have helped). You learn nothing about New York City or American life in the early 1950s, a watershed era in American life as the economy boomed, racial barriers were tested, the Communist scare grew, the Korean War started and television began to thrive.
Even so, alone on a stage with bad lighting, Noir is a hit. This old-style crime drama[dy] is funny, features fine actors, a solid and meandering plot and waves and waves of old noir atmosphere at every turn in the story.
Director Marc Geller gets fine performances from Michael McCoy (McQue), Andrew Dawson (Grimes), Darrell Glasgow (Holden) and Abby Royle as vamp Helen Lydecker (who really could use at least one more dress!).
The play about 1950s crime and the old black and white movies has everything except Richard Widmark pushing an old lady in a wheelchair down the stairs.
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