Stage: Kill Me, Deadly

Set in the seedy underbelly of 1940s Hollywood, Bill Robens' play “has great fun" satirizing the hard-boiled private detective and other characters of the film noir genre.

Theatre of NOTE

Los Angeles

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As “eternally cool” as film noir is, it practically begs to be satirized, said Terry Morgan in Variety. On the case is playwright Bill Robens, whose Kill Me, Deadly cleverly turns the genre’s “supercharged style and general seriousness” on its end. Set in the seedy underbelly of 1940s Hollywood, the play “has great fun with the genre stereotypes”—there’s a hard-boiled private detective, “a deeply duplicitous dame,” and a hilarious cast of “assorted thugs.” Robens clearly knows his noir, and has packed the script with deeply funny lines that twist the typical deadpan: “She had a hold on me like a wolverine on a moose.”

Robens’ protagonist, Charlie Nickels, is a “shamus with low morals and high ideals,” said Philip Brandes in the Los Angeles Times. Charlie’s latest case involves the “cursed” 300-karat Bengal Diamond, owned by the wealthy widow Lady Clairmont, who is predictably murdered for the gem. Charlie must wade through an array of suspects that include Clairmont’s lunatic son, her socialite daughter, an uppity butler, and a “nightclub torch singer and vibraphonist” named Mona, for whom Charlie’s heart pounds beneath his trench coat. As Charlie, actor Dean Lemont “has the hangdog mug and rugged bearing befitting a man for whom opportunity usually knocks with a punch in the gut.” And his sublime delivery of the script’s “hyperbolic similes” and “tongue-twisting Raymond Chandler–esque narration” provides the foundation upon which the rest of the parody turns.

The play’s “tomfoolery” does wear a bit thin after a time, said Les Spindle in Back Stage. Robens could easily cut a good half-hour out of the piece. Besides, it’s the little touches that make the show a joy. Davis Campbell’s clever set includes a car whose back window is a film screen showing projected road footage, and Kimberly Freed’s costumes capture noir style flawlessly. The “game” cast supporting Lemont includes Kirsten Vangsness, who gives “the production’s funniest portrayal” as the vamping Mona, and Kathleen Mary Carthy, whose Lady Clairmont is “ a daffy cross between Bette Davis and Angela Lansbury.” They all contribute to Kill Me, Deadly’s abundant, “scenery-chewing fun.”

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