Red Herring at the Providence Players is a delightful mix of murder mystery, romance, and broad farce. A noir of the 1950s, it reminds us vividly of the joys, sorrows, and nightmares of that period. The 1950s were certainly not a good time for minorities or anyone who was perceived as “different” but the decade provides an evocative backdrop for this appealing comedy.
At first, we are introduced to Frank Keller (Patrick David), a broad-shouldered, strong-jawed G-man, and his girlfriend, fellow investigator Maggie Pelletier (Liz Mykietyn). David gives a fine performance; he has a lived-in look and brusque authority which works well with his character.
Mykietyn is outstanding as the world-weary but ever-hopeful Maggie. They are faced with a classic 1950’s dilemma; a Russian spy ring is after the blueprints for the H-bomb.
Next, we see a young couple watching the McCarthy hearings. The girl, Lynn (Charlene Sloan) seems enraptured with Senator Joseph McCarthy; it turns out that he is her Dad. Her devoted mother (Tina Thronson), is unaware that her daughter has secrets; for example, Lynn’s fiancé, James Appel (Christopher Crockett) has an unpatriotic occupation. Crockett’s acting has a subtlety and flair which makes his performance a pleasure to watch. Lynn is an unlikely Radcliffe girl (her character behaves more like a Big Ten cheerleader) but Sloan gives us a pitch-perfect portrayal of winsome desperation which draws us to her.
Another member of the spy ring, Andrei Borchevsky (James McDaniel), is having a torrid affair with his landlady, the widowed Mrs. Kravitz (also Tina Thronson), despite the inconvenient presence of wife Olga back in the Old Country. Both performers are versatile and engaging.
Director Beth Hughes-Brown provides many comic touches; a couple of FBI agents in raincoats and hats patrol the audience before the show starts. A scene in a bridal shop turns into a hilarious screaming match. The music ranges from dark private-eye Guy Noir–like instrumentals to 50’s TV intros (was that Leave it to Beaver or Dennis the Menace?) to Sinatra.
The smaller roles are all well played. Jayne L. Victor’s reaction during the melee at her wedding gown boutique is especially entertaining. Amanda Ranowsky (Dr. Kasden/Witness) Julie Janson and Andra Witt (Bartender/Announcer) and Michael Bagwell (Major Hartwell/Sen. McCarthy/Airport Announcer) all enter into the spirit of the production with brio.
Technical elements (Technical Director is Chip Gertzog) are very well executed. Robbie Snow’s costumes are ideal for the period; flowered dresses for the women, hats and suits, complete with serious expressions, for the men, and for Mrs. Kravitz, a seemingly endless series of housecoats.
John White’s set design utilizes two moving set pieces on either side of the stage, which works well for the structure of the piece. The physical production complements the writing beautifully. Lighting Design (Chip and Jimmy Gertzog) and Sound Design (Khalid Mohammed) are up to the same high standard.
Author Michael Hollinger has a talent for comedy, but the play’s humor is uneven and sometimes over-the-top. One character’s muteness is played for laughs, which might not be amusing to some people. Hollinger has not quite found a way to successfully integrate the serious subjects he includes (the Bomb, the Red Scare, the Rosenbergs) with the more farcical aspects of the script.
Red Herring is a genial tribute to what seemed like a simpler time. It is rewarding entertainment for all.
Red Herring plays through June 18 , 2016 at Providence Players of Fairfax, performing at the James Lee Community Center – 2855 Annandale Road, in Falls Church, VA. For tickets, purchase them at the door, or online.
Providence Players Open Michael Hollinger’s Noir Comedy “Red Herring” This Weekend in Falls Church by Chip Gertzog.