EDGE OF NOIR

At the Cafe Noir, everyone wears black and white--or they get picked on by the actors. The cast of this interactive theater piece, now being staged by Mystery Cabaret West at Catalano's Catered Affair, helps serve and clear a four-course dinner during the intermissions while carrying on a constant, teasing repartee with the audience. It's a neat twist on traditional dinner theater--a little silly, but amusing and intermittently clever.

All the names of the play's characters and more than a little of its atmospherics come from the film-noir movies of the 1940s and 1950s. The hero's name, for instance, is Rick Archer, a contraction of two Humphrey Bogart roles--Sam Archer of The Maltese Falcon and Rick of Casablanca. This Rick's a private dick, natch.

The story unfolds on infamous Mustique Island in the sultry Grenadines, where murdering hoodlums, hookers and assorted petty criminals hang out and search for devious ways to ply their various trades. Hired by an American millionaire, Rick has come looking for a runaway heiress turned tart. But just before his arrival, the island's nefarious and powerful overlord, Andre Gauvreau, is murdered. Whodunit is the point of this exercise, and as the actors circulate through the audience during dinner, patrons are given a series of clues and the opportunity to interview all suspects.

First in the lineup is the heiress herself, a dish named Sheila Wonderly (played slinkily by Heather Ruggier) who had the motive, the opportunity and the bad luck to lose an earring near the corpse. Then there's Simon Gutterman (delivered with polished courtesy by David Sutton), an avaricious attorney with a Sydney Greenstreet kind of charm who pulls a gun on our hero. The urbane black marketeer Anthony Cairo (stylishly embodied by the silky Chaz Kemp) has the moxie, if not the best motive, for the crime. And Madame Toureau (played with chilly insouciance by Cindy Speer) was once married to Gauvreau and claims to love him still.

Sean Luckett's aloof sarcasm in the role of the hard-boiled P.I. works most of the time, though his one-liners get a tad labored. The show really belongs to Dorothy Shapland as voodoo priestess Marie La Rue and Mike Daniels as her lover, Thursby, a New York gangster. Shapland, equipped with a fine voice, sings with torchy poignancy. She's also the most quick-witted of the crew in bantering with the audience. Daniels takes three roles--the unlucky Thursby, a suspicious German character and an English cop--and manages to stay focused despite the demands of serving dinner along with the dialogue.

The rest of the cast is better at broad parody than it is at ad-libbing sardonic remarks to audience inquiries. But this play by David Landau is livened up by complicated and murky plot twists, a couple of very catchy tunes by Nikki Stern and a number of funny ripoffs from the movies. The night I saw it, the dinner was drawn out too long, and the story began to wear thin simply because it took too many courses to tell it. The audience, though, got zealously into the sleuthing process, and there was plenty of hilarity to go around. The show's playful spirit is fairly involving--but I'm not sure I'd want to play it again, Sam.

 
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