Written by Quentin Tarantino
Male Cast directed by Tony Smith and Patrick Bias
Female Cast directed by Katie Dearmond and Ben Unwin
Reviewed by Craig Nolan Highley
Entire contents are copyright © 2013, Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.
I have to confess, film buff that I am, that I never got around to seeing Quentin Tarantino’s debut film as director, Reservoir Dogs. Not that I didn’t intend to (in fact, the Blu-ray has been sitting on my shelf for months – thank you Target’s $5 specials!), I just kept putting off seeing it. It was one of those films that I looked forward to because of everything I’d heard about it, and I may have been unconsciously putting it off just to savor the anticipation. After all, I have loved just about every one of Tarantino’s other films and had extremely high expectations.
So when I got assigned to review The Alley Theater’s double-feature stage adaptation, I figured the time had come. So a week ago, I popped in the disc and prepared to be astounded!
I was somewhat disappointed.
Don’t get me wrong – I did find it to be a fairly decent film, with sequences that have become deservedly iconic. But it just didn’t seem to deserve its revered reputation. To be fair, no film could have lived up to the expectations I had built up over the years; but its plot, format, style, and themes have been revisited in later (and better) Tarantino films.
So then I was faced with, did I really want to sit through the same story in a live production, not once, but twice, and so soon after seeing the original? I admit I approached The Alley’s double shows with somewhat lowered expectations than I had when I first agreed to do this review.
And once again, my expectations were dashed. But this time, in a very good way!
For those uninitiated, the story involves a group of thugs meeting up in an empty warehouse after a diamond heist has gone very wrong. Some of their own number are dead, along with a lot of police and innocent bystanders. One of them is rapidly bleeding to death from a gunshot wound to the belly. A hostage cop gets tortured. A lot more blood will be shed before the show is done, and the survivors turn on each other one by one as they try to determine which of them is the “rat” that sold them out.
The Alley has taken an interesting approach to this material: two different directing teams present two different casts (one all male, the other all female), and the results are a very theatrical piece that makes me think this material is better suited to the stage after all.
One of the misconceptions I always had about the movie was that I had always been told it all took place in one location, which is why you always hear about theater groups wanting to mount it as a play. Having seen the movie, I was surprised to find that was not the case at all; the main story takes place in a warehouse, but in true Tarantino style, the story also depends on many flashback sequences taking place in multiple other locations. So I was curious how The Alley was going to pull this off. I assumed a lot of re-writing would be involved, working the flashbacks into conversation to maintain the single set piece.
Both casts simply perform the screenplay, with just a few minor cuts. (From what I could tell, the female cast used more of the original screenplay than the men, but I still noticed a few things missing.) The flashbacks are handled with scene changes occurring while the voice of an ever-present disc jockey announces from a radio that seems to be constantly playing, while intertitles are displayed on a projection screen at the back of the stage. It never seemed to slow the action, which is something you can’t always say about scene changes.
The two different performances differ in more ways than just the gender of their respective casts, thanks to markedly different directorial styles by Tony Smith and Patrick Bias with the men and Katie Dearmond and Ben Unwin with the women. Both versions have their strengths and weaknesses, and there are definitely roles in each that are played better than others.
But gun to my head, I’d have to say the male cast succeeded more for me than the female cast. There was just something that rang artificial by having all these characters played by women when they were unmistakably written as men; it’s not enough to just change pronouns and genitalia references. When Neal Simon did a female version of The Odd Couple, he did a complete re-write of the material to accommodate the gender-switch; something similar would be required here to really make the idea work. There was just nothing feminine about any of these characters.
That said, however, I think a far more interesting idea would have been a mixed-gender cast. If Joey Arena’s Mr. White had been paired with Abbie Braun’s Ms. Orange, for example, it would have added a fascinating element to his intensely protective nature toward her. And as the mob boss Jo, I could easily believe Tiffany Taylor controlling the whole outfit whether they were women or men.
I also really enjoyed April Singer’s psychotic turn as Ms. Blonde; she certainly seemed more into her role than her male counterpart, Chris Petty, who really needs to learn to project more. Daniel Smith was also quite amusing as daddy’s boy Nice Guy Eddie.
On the technical side, the slide projections were a nice touch (although running opening credits in the male cast seemed a little much and more than a little arrogant), and as noted they served nicely to aid the scene changes. The blood spatter effects from the gunshots were a mixed bag: When they worked they were quite convincing; when they didn’t, well, they still made their point.
I would really recommend trying to see both casts if possible, because it really is interesting to compare. And I was entertained more by both than I was by the movie, and that is really quite an accomplishment.
I’ve said before that you never know what you’re going to get when you see a show at The Alley, but this time they really have outdone themselves. If you are a fan of the film, then you definitely can’t miss this!
Starring in the Male Cast: Joey Arena, Corey Elmore, Scott Goodman, William Meredith, Chris Petty, Chesley Sommer, Daniel Smith, and Lucian Tomes Jr.
Starring in the Female Cast: Lauren Argo, Abbie Braun, Katie Dearmond, Keri Dearmond, Jessica McGill, Jamie Shannon, April Singer, and Tiffany Taylor.
“White” (Male) Cast: Fridays (Aug. 9, 16, 23)
“Blonde” (Female) Cast: Saturdays (Aug. 10, 17, 24)
Tickets: $17 + coupon code for $5 to see the other show
Industry Nights ($12 tickets): Men on the 5th, Women on the 12th
Student Nights (Pay What You Can w/ID): Women on the 8th
The Alley Theater
1205 East Washington Street
Louisville, KY 40202