Silver Spring Stage puts on a 1950’s screwball comedy murder mystery, espionage, romance – about communists and a whole lot of fish in Red Herring to close out their 2013 season. It’s a sweet and funny production celebrating all that was fun…and slightly insane…about the 50s.
Playwright Michael Hollinger wrote this script in 2000, so the style and the comedy are modern, and it’s interesting to see the 50s through a sheen of nostalgia and farce through his eyes.
Hollinger weaves a complicated plot of three couples in the short time between their proposals and marriage as their professional lives – as gumshoe, g-man, soviet spy, fisherman, boardinghouse matron, and future housewife – intersect in a plot to create the fusion bomb and give it to the Russians, kill a fisherman/spy, resurrect him, and marry him off. That’s a lot of plot to stuff into two hours and he keeps the pace brisk and the laughs coming.
Silver Spring Stage veteran director Seth Ghitelman has played up the sitcom feel with a sound design by Jamie Coupar that includes dramatic chords and drum rolls that accompany the punch lines that ends every scene. Coupar has also peppers the scenes with a soundtrack of fifties jazz and classics that set the mood. Jim Robertson’s lights help with the scene changes, dimming the lights to a soft blue and raising them on many, many different locations. He’s also created a fabulous, blinding fusion bomb.
Rolling furniture sets each scene as the action bounces from Joe McCarthy’s living room to the docks of Boston to the South Pacific in a set by Bob Thompson. The centerpiece of the set is a fishing billboard – a dynamic painting of fisherman in a sea capped by Ogilvy Kippers. That juxtaposition between huge dramatic, historical events and ridiculous tiny details is a theme that runs through the play.
The cast delivers their zingers with good comic timing and excellent chemistry. The first lovers introduced are Maggie and Frank, a police detective and an FBI agent (Laura Russell and Thomas McGrath). Frank proposes in bed in the first scene and they discover in the second that Maggie’s new homicide case was also a spy on the FBI’s wanted list. Russell is great with a hard-boiled New York accent and McGrath manages to mix the rumpled exhaustion of a long-time government worker with the charm of a guy in love.
The plot thickens when couple number two enters. Mrs. Kravitz (Shelley Rochester) is called upon to identify the dead guy and gets her lover involved, Andrei (Bill Hurlbut). His Russian accent is spot on, but the funniest scene is when he must pretend to be mute rather than reveal his origins, and he acts out his thoughts as Mrs. Kravitz translates.
Andrei is spying for the Russians and gets his information from Wisconsin physicist James (Greg Lang) who’s being shipped to the South Pacific and enlists his new fiancée’s help to get him the information to Boston in a block of Velveeta. His fiancée is Joe McCarthy’s daughter Lynn (Lindsay Beecher Lantham). These two are great, bringing such enthusiasm to these remarkably dim characters. At one point James asserts, “I want to get married so we never have to argue again!”
Stuart Fischer and Katie Johnston round out the cast and all of the rest of the characters in the play: FBI partners, medical examiners, admirals, bridal shop owners, and every other character required. They are both chameleons, making every minor character into a masterpiece of hilarious detail, like the Medical Examiner’s “I Like Ike” obsession. The costumes by Harlene Leahy are a wonderful study of 1950’s fashion with skinny ties, fabulous wedding attire, and one very important pair of shoes.
Silver Spring Stage’s Red Herring is pure, laugh-out-loud fun – a perfect comedy on love and marriage, and a great chance to look back at a crazy time in history and smile with this hilarious cast. You won’t want to miss it. Don’t be ‘hard of herring!’
Running Time: Two hours and 10 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.
Red Herring plays through July 27, 2013 at Silver Spring Stage in Woodmoor Shopping Center – 10145 Colesville Road, in Silver Spring, MD. For tickets, purchase them online, or call the box office at (301) 593-6036.