Murder, mayhem, lies and double-crossing; good gals, bad guys, gangsters, thugs, hard-boiled detectives and hapless bartenders — Earth and Sky has all the elements of film noir. But can the atmospheric genre translate to the stage? Do the intricate and often confusing plot lines of the mid-20th century film style make sense in live theater?
Yes and no.
Colonial Players goes after noir atmospherics with dark lighting and dramatic musical flourishes. Sometimes, however, it is simply too noir. When actors can’t be seen, atmosphere has trumped storytelling.
However the Players score in transitions from scene to scene, which designer Wes Bedsworth transforms from bus stop to police station to restaurant to beach to library and two apartments.
The story takes off from a murder to a consequent search for both the killer and the truth of the victim’s life. It’s simple in essence but not in plot. As you try to figure it out, you’ll be entertained by the noir styling of the play’s characters.
Playing the murder victim is Pat Reynolds, with the stooped posture, shoulder shrugs, throwaway gestures to make his character a “loser wanna be somebody.” Beyond gesture, Reynolds makes you care about David Ames and regret his untimely demise. This is an actor who knows how to transform himself. Reynolds’ last performance, in Noel Coward’s Private Lives, was the epitome of cool, self-assured elegance.
Bill Deck’s portrayal of the hard-boiled Detective H.E. Weber captures the essence of all film noir cops. His diction is clipped and his presence no-nonsense. He keeps the pace of the show moving.
As his detective sidekick, Joe Del Balzo has a small part but makes the most of it.
Timothy Sayles plays Julius Gatz with the accent, mannerisms, and intense glare to make a very menacing gangster. Terry Averill comes across as creepy, not psychotic, in his portrayal of killer Carl Eisenstadt. Dann Alagna turns in a good performance as the information-providing bartender.
Among the women, Erin Leigh Casey plays David’s girlfriend, Sara, the one who pushes where she shouldn’t to discover who killed David and, more importantly to her, whether he really loved her. Casey has to carry the story, as she never leaves the stage during the 95-minute show. Her range of emotions wasn’t very wide as the play opened, but she stretched as the show progressed, indicating that perhaps nerves got the better of the actress at the start. Her scenes with Reynolds, in particular, worked well.
Holly Hendrickson, as Sara’s sidekick, has a major revelation, but her character needs a bigger change to be effective. Jillian Marcum plays Marie DeFari, David’s former flame. Her motivations are weak, which compromises her exposition of a major part of the plot.
Fans of film noir will enjoy seeing the genre transplanted to the stage. Fans of murder mysteries will enjoy the red herrings and planted clues as well as the outcome. Fans of good theatre will enjoy strong performances and good design.