By Lucy Komisar
A hokey funny spoof of film noir, the mood set by 1940s music, this play by the inventive Stolen Chair company mines every verbal and physical cliché in the book. And the ensemble, whose members have been together for a decade, does a superb job in bringing to life the characters, one of whom is soon to be dead. It was written by Kiran Rikhye and directed by Jon Stancato, who must have gotten bleary-eyed watching Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe.
Private eye Ben Farrell (Nathan Darrow) has the mystery of his career to solve. Crimes are happening after they are written about in a pulp mystery magazine, “Murder Monthly.”
When the publisher of the magazine, Lydia Forsythe (Natalie Hegg), hires him to find her most important writer, who has missed a meeting, she covers her desk with pie charts that show how important he is to circulation. Natalie Hegg is good as the glamorous and 1940s assertive woman. Farrell takes the job. (Darrow is perfectly smooth and comically understated in the role.)
Meanwhile, a mysterious woman, Vivian Ballantine (Sarah Skeist), phones to ask him to come to see her. She hires him to find her brother. She does a fine job as the femme fatale in a tight red dress. She is sultry, so is the music. She tells him, “I live for my jewelry and my gowns.” He says, “I like knowing what makes you tack.” She says, “You mean tick.”
Turns out her brother Tommy Dickie (David Skeist) is the mystery writer. Farrell finds him in a bathtub dressed in a red satin smoking jacket and black patent leather shoes. A tray across the tub holds Scotch. They walk around, stepping into and out of the bathtub. Dickie says , “Have a seat.” Farrell says, “I’ll stand,” and he sits down.
But soon he discovers that the next story this crime raconteur is telling has him, the detective, dead.
A running gag is that whoever Farrell meets offers him a cigarette, which he sticks behind his ear, first throwing on the ground the one that’s already there. Soon the floor is littered with cigarettes.
In another shtick, he is confronted by Detective Jones (John Froehlich) who had turned him in for turning in some corrupt cops. The two do an antic à deux throwing their fedoras back and forth. And then trading noisy faked blows.
A knock on the door becomes a drum tattoo.
Can’t tell you how it ends, because even a shaggy dog mystery has secrets.
“Kill Me Like You Mean It.” Written by Kiran Rikhye; directed by Jon Stancato. Stolen Chair at Fourth Street Theater, 83 East 4th Street, New York City. Opened Feb 16, 2015; closes March 8, 2015. 2/14/15.