Brat Productions opened its 2011-12 season with MEANWHILE…, a world premiere spoof of classic American crime stories of the 1930s and ‘40s. Written by Brat’s multi-talented Founding Artistic Director Madi Distefano, the fast-paced, quick-change send-up of film noir and pulp fiction whodunits is an uproarious homage to the popular genre, filled with well parodied stock characters, authentic period lingo, and double entendres from the era of “sawbucks” ($10 bills) and “dicks” (detectives).
The comic mystery is set in a hotel, a detective’s office, and dockside in post-Prohibition Atlantic City. It contains a roster of the usual suspects, among them a private eye, a small-town ingenue, a club owner, gangster, blond bimbo, and bellhop. Under the nimble direction of Brat’s Co-Artistic Director Lee Ann Etzold, a total of twelve hilarious roles, both male and female, are played to perfection by the two-woman ensemble of Mary McCool and Sarah Doherty.
As P.I. John Sharp, McCool has never been better. She engages the audience through her cool and cocky demeanor, direct-address narration, and the stylized speech and mannerisms culled from the likes of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade, Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer, and THE UNTOUCHABLES’ real-life Eliott Ness, as portrayed by Robert Stack. She is equally adept in her many supporting roles, giving each character a distinctive personality and comic flair, from the ditzy blond bombshell to the gigolo drummer to the fiery Puerto Rican maid. The versatile Doherty is likewise outstanding in her multiple personas, including the 4 x 4 foot Mafioso with a comb-over, and Sugar, the aspiring young songstress-in-distress, who delights the audience with a ‘40s-style vocal number sung into a vintage-style microphone—one of the many accurate period props coordinated by Assistant Stage Manager Kevin Wayne Jordan.
But it’s not just the onstage action that entertains. Effective offstage gimmicks during the show’s sixty costume changes keep the audience amused and confused, as two characters played by the same cast member converse, appear together as silhouettes in a window, or engage in fisticuffs, thanks to undetected switches with body doubles Rebecca Rose and Elena Grace Smith, and life-size puppets by Aaron Cromie–all precisely organized by Jordan. Rose and Smith warrant further kudos as the backstage dressers, who keep the show moving and the characters costumed in rapid-fire order, in breakaway retro-fashions by the aptly monikered Bobby Fabulous. Brad Helm’s set design facilitates both the action and deceptions, with strategically placed doors, windows, and furniture that mask the production’s numerous feats of legerdemain and surprise ending.
If you’re a fan of old-style detective stories, you’ll love MEANWHILE… If you aren’t yet, you’ll quickly become one after seeing Brat’s winning production. Either way, don’t miss MEANWHILE…, running in the appropriately nostalgic RUBA Club through November 19.
MEANWHILE. . .
Written by Madi Distefano
Directed by Lee Ann Etzold
October 27-November 19, 2011
416 Green Street
Philadelphia, PA 19123