Parrot Heads

After slogging through the two hours of aimless conversation and mildly entertaining lounge tunes that permeate Rick Lawson's Incident at the Blue Parrot Cafe, it comes as welcome relief when one character finally says something that's been on every theatergoer's mind since the play began. Seemingly investing his remarks with a heroic measure of put-the-audience-out-of-its-misery sympathy, a burly barkeep named Pete turns to his street-wise sidekick and blusters, "Mike, if there's a point to all of this, just get to it." Several convoluted plot twists and ineptly staged episodes later, Mike mercifully obeys.

Would that theatergoers could just as easily convince playwright Lawson, who also directs the South Suburban Theatre Company's world-premiere production, to pull the plug on his ill-conceived epic. As it is, Blue Parrot quickly devolves into an extended ponderous exercise that's part trashy crime novel and part cable-access talent show. As a result, what starts out as homage to Forties and Fifties film noir winds up earning more stifled laughter than hushed attention.

Set in a seedy jazz club in downtown Denver in 1956 (given the dearth of relevant references to time and place, it might as well be Scranton in 1926 or Reno in 1976), the play begins as a muttering Pete Duchamp (Roy Ferguson) fires an ear-splitting, inconsequential gunshot in the direction of small-time hood Joey Terlaine (Lou Metzger). A few moments later, a retired Chicago cop turned private eye, Mike Wezetsky (Blaine Daniel), enters and perches on a bar stool at a corner of the stage closest to the audience. His banal, Spillane-like ramblings, which typically begin with the verbal red flag "That reminds me of a story...," always manage to tell us more than we want to know.

In due time, we meet jazz singer Jean Marie (Jan Cleveland) and her ivory-tickling accompanist, Francie (Michelle Girard), who team up to belt out a couple of enjoyable songs. Then in walks Slick Jim Faust (Gary Hathaway), a supposedly intimidating gangster type who looks as though he'd have a hard time shaking down a preschooler for milk money. As Act One ends, we're introduced to Rochelle Stern (Melissa McGuire), a starry-eyed crooner--with a star-shaped birthmark, no less--who hopes to land her first big show-business break and, we later learn, locate her birth mother, who left Rochelle in an orphanage and went up north to become...a jazz singer.

The actors extract what value they can from such dramatically bankrupt lines as "Why don't you leave and take your stench with you?" and "You never know how fate's gonna come into your life and slap you upside the head." But no matter how hard the actors try to lend some gravitas to the evening's proceedings, you find yourself wincing when the performers imbue Lawson's inane dialogue with far more humanity than it deserves. Like most dramatists who take themselves too seriously, Lawson seems more interested in the cheap theatrics of turgid sentiment than he is in sounding the depths of a universal human problem. In this case, the playwright's misdirected efforts--save for McGuire and Cleveland's adequately sung portrayals--fall on deaf ears.


Incident at the Blue Parrot Cafe, through February 20 at the South Suburban Theatre Company, 1900 West Littleton Boulevard, Littleton, 303-347-1900.


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