Jennifer Poliskie in Laura.
By George Sklar and Vera Caspary
Directed by Martin French
A review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2022 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
If you come to this production expecting the moody, romantic, noir atmosphere of Otto Preminger’s classic film, you will be disappointed because…well that’s a movie and this is a play. It came to life first as a play before becoming a novel and then a film.
So forget all that you know or assume and start fresh, or maybe you know nothing to begin with and are the rare creature that never watches TCM. That would be best of all. Surprisingly, the opening night audience reacted to this Laura as if it was fresh and new, gasping and exclaiming in a manner that should please director Martin French.
Laura begins as a standard, almost mundane murder mystery. Mark (Jake Minton) is a police detective investigating the murder of Laura Hunt. The people in her circle, her cook Bessie (Carol Jacqueline), her fiance Shelby Carpenter (Aaron Whaley), the landlady Mrs. Dorgan (Stephanie Hall), and her teenage son Danny (Bailey Story), and noted writer Waldo Lydecker (Sean Childress). Except for Mrs. Dorgan, they are all devoted to Laura in varying degrees.
Even though the film has been around for over 80 years, I won’t discuss the plot more than that. One member of the audience had no such compunction about speaking openly and blithely revealing the end of the story during the intermission but I have little interest in spoilers. It makes it impossible to fully review what transpires on the Little Colonel stage, but thems the breaks.
So suspend your disbelief as I also mention the stellar performance of Jennifer Poliskie as a mystery woman who arrives to complicate the investigation and the lives of all concerned. Poliskie understands the quixotic nature of the femme fatale character and the importance of the mercurial emotional mix that pushes past the archetype.
Sean Childress has the luck of the lines with Waldo, who was based in part on the legendary Algonquin Round Table wit Alexander Wolcott. His every line drips with sarcasm and bile and Childress relishes every syllable.
I also particularly enjoyed the sharp energy of Carol Jacqueline, who makes the seemingly less important role of Bessie seem almost essential. Jacqueline stops short of stealing every scene, but not by much.
The script leaves the other characters a bit stranded in terms of depth or development, with Bailey Story doing what he can with the smitten boy, Aaron Whaley indulging an overdrawn, albeit consistently rendered southern accent and some unfortunate mugging as Shelby. Jake Minton is understated and earnest as Mark, but we never feel the weight of the risk and obsession that makes the film so iconic, and the character struggles to rise above the cliched flatfoot policeman. It begs the question of whether the dense noir atmosphere of the film, which streamlines the story and jettiisons a couple of the characters is a vast improvement over the source material. Or is the veil of nostalgia that powerful an added ingredient?
A few details nag at you. One bottle of dark alcohol is poured in response to requests for both scotch and brandy, and one curious bit of dialogue seems inconsistent and prompted some audible response around me; “how did he know that?”, which never factored into the resolution. Red herring or errant line?
The 1940s period setting is reasonably accomplished on what must be a very tight budget, and many costume details felt too modern. Not to make excuses, but very few community theatres have the budget to build proper period design and at least the good effort shows.
But looking past opening night hesitation, the pace and tone are pretty well judged by French, and the twists and turns of this near antique play work well enough to keep it in good standing and worth revisiting. Good, old-fashioned fun.
February 11, 12, 17, 18, 19 @ 7:30 pm
February 13, 20 @ 2:00 pm
Little Colonel Playhouse
302 Mt Mercy Drive
Pewee Valley, KY 40056
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.