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Archive for August 27th, 2011

Fringe 2011 Review: Noir

Posted by metaphorical on 27 August 2011


2h 0m (but see below)
VENUE #7: Connelly Theater
Performance seen: Thu 25 @ 8:45

Rating: 7
(using the BroadwayWorld rating system of 10=effusive praise; 9=excellent; 7/8=positive with some reservations; 5/6=respectfully unenthused; 3/4=mostly negative; 2=little to recommend; 1=offended, insulted, angered)

I liked “Noir.” I wanted to like it more. I wanted there to be more of it to like.

McQue (no first name), a big lug of a 1950s New York cop, is stymied in his ambition to advance beyond the level of detective, mainly held back by his jerk of a lieutenant, Norbert Grimes. McQue is also a little bit jealous of the department’s golden child, newly-made detective Clay Holden. Holden is in charge of an investigation of a sweet little murder, and McQue wants in on the case. Holden is also, though, involved in the very crime he’s investigating, thanks to a doll who’s not as innocent as she looks.

Here’s what I liked about “Noir.” (1) The central character of McQue, as likeable a private dick since Philip Marlowe in “The Big Sleep.” (2) The simplicity of the story—four characters: three cops and a dame. It’s all so efficient—a complete noir in an hour. Sweet.

Here’s what I didn’t like about about “Noir.” (1) McQue is far too likeable. The problem with “The Big Sleep”—and what makes it properly not a noir movie at all—is the lack of moral ambiguity in its central character. (2) The tight simplicity of the story. Part of the charm of noir is the convoluted plots. It’s possible to go too far—“Red Harvest” comes to mind, as does that all-McGuffin-all-the-time classic, “The Maltese Falcon”—but all things being equal, too much complexity is better than too little.

The two problems compound one another. McQue is not very believable as a big lug. For one thing, it’s made instantly and painfully clear in the first scene that he isn’t, and so it’s not believable that his lieutenant or anyone else thinks he is. Nor is it necessary for the story—it’s apparently his motivation for pushing himself into the case, which in turn explains how he’s on it, but is all this machinery needed? Couldn’t it have simply been his turn?

Given these limitations, Michael McCoy as McQue is perfect, from his voice to his physique. His character addresses the audience with knowing charm even as he addresses Grimes with contempt. I thought Andrew Dawson had some problems as Grimes, though they may be endemic to the part as written. The character spins long stories to make his points, rendering impossible the quick repartee we both expect from noir and get elsewhere (for example, when Grimes tells Clay, “You’re holding onto false hope,” Clay responds, “Is there another kind?”).

Author Stan Werse, an attorney in his 50s who started writing plays and screenplays less than a decade ago, does a generally wonderful job recreating the conventions of the genre, but he may need to make some tough choices between adhering to them or giving us characters with more complexity than an affectionate send-up can handle. Or maybe Werse just needs to go out a little bit further on the limb he has constructed.

If you were to plot the story’s complexity over time, it would slowly rise to about the 55 minute mark and then fall off a cliff. Five minutes later, it has wrapped up it’s entire plot in a single neat bow. The Fringe catalogue lists the show as running 120 minutes, not 60. Sometime between acceptance and performance, did Werse simplify the noir out of “Noir”?

[more fringe 2011 reviews here]

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Fringe 2011 Review: When the Sky Breaks 3D

Posted by metaphorical on 27 August 2011

When the Sky Breaks 3D

1h 0m
VENUE #5: Dixon Place
Performance seen: Fri 26 @ 9:15

Rating: 7
(using the BroadwayWorld rating system of 10=effusive praise; 9=excellent; 7/8=positive with some reservations; 5/6=respectfully unenthused; 3/4=mostly negative; 2=little to recommend; 1=offended, insulted, angered)

On the Friday that turned out to be the last day of the Fringe, I was determined to see three shows, as I had on the Friday that the festival opened. That first night I saw COBU as the last show. It was a wise choice; the torrent of drumming and hip-hop dancing washed over the audience—the perfect thing to see at 9:45 pm. So last night I employed the COBU strategy and ended the evening with “When the Sky Breaks 3D,” a 3D-enhanced show by the Brooklyn-based hip-hop troupe Decadancetheatre.

Dance is already the most 3D of all the arts. As it turns out, when I put on the 3D glasses to best see 3D images being projected onto a back wall, the images popped forward in the way they’re supposed to, but the dancers in front of them flattened. Worse still, dance requires sharp lines, but, like the way a prism breaks up light, the 3D glasses turned the outlines of the dancers into rainbow blurs. In only one number, which featured complicated angular hand gestures (picture a hip-hop version of the sign language of the deaf), did that work to an advantage.

The 3D images consisted, as the show’s name would suggest, mainly of skylines and other cityscapes as seen looking upward. For me, the urban images served no particular purpose. I suppose cornfields would have been incongruous with the hip-hop music but they would have been no less integrated with the dance.

There were only a couple of points in the show that offered the hoped-for integration. In one, the dancers, facing away from the audience, run in slow motion through a beautiful blue sky. In my favorite piece, the finale, which was a sort of ecstatic urban rain dance, raindrops fell onto the dancers quite believably. In other numbers, however, the backdrop was ignorable or worse—occasionally images were faintly projected onto the dancers’ grey shirts.

There was little integration between the music and the dancing, either—nothing that went beyond matching steps to the beat, and one number, to Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life,” didn’t even do that. The audience didn’t seem to care one whit, though, as it rewarded break-dance body sculpture moves, poses, and spins with applause and whoops of glee—as it did for just about every number.

The music was terrific throughout and there’s no having a bad time watching human forms in coordinated motion to it, but I think the 3D hindered the show at least as much as it enhanced it. Technologists have taken on the challenge of large-scale glasses-free 3D (it already works for handheld game devices); when it works not just for the living room but the dance stage as well, Decadancetheatre will really have something.

[more fringe 2011 reviews here]

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