Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

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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