Film noir feel brought to stage


February 28, 2002|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

As soon as you see the stylish set for Theatre Hopkins' production of Laura, you know you've slipped into a different world. It's not just that the Art Deco decor puts you in the 1940s. More significantly, the gray, black and white color scheme engulfs you in film noir.

This is thoroughly apropos since the best-known version of Laura is Otto Preminger's classic 1944 black-and-white movie. Indeed, looking at Vera Caspary and George Sklar's play through a veil of nostalgia is probably the best idea.

Even so, the play feels dated and more than a tad clunky. For starters, people show up at the apartment of murder victim Laura Hunt with amazing rapidity; every few seconds there seems to be a knock at the door, and more than a few of the visitors look like suspects.

Complicating matters further is the fact that almost every man on stage is in love with the recently deceased. Besides her fiance (Ben Thomas, oozing molasses-thick Southern smarm), there's the landlady's son (Loren Dunn), as well as foppish Waldo Lydecker (Mark E. Campion), the affected writer who envisioned himself as Pygmalion to Laura's Galatea.

Even the detective (Stephen Antonsen) investigating her murder finds himself falling for the glamorous dead girl. Antonsen does his best to lend the proceedings a naturalistic air - a wise choice since this material easily can lapse into self-parody.

The production has other strengths as well, especially the intense penultimate scene between Campion's Lydecker and Katherine Jaeger, as a beautiful woman who shows up unexpectedly (and whose identity I'll protect for the sake of the uninitiated).

But some of the detective's lines, such as "I'm willing to take the rap on this, sweetheart," or his threat to have "the boys sweat it out of you at the station," are so cliched they elicit chuckles from a modern-day audience.

Director Suzanne Pratt, her game cast and that stunning set (created by Pratt and Bill Roche) make this a pleasantly diverting evening. But - much as I hate to say it - in the end, the play can't compete with the movie. What comes across as a charming period piece on screen is largely passe on stage.

Theatre Hopkins performs in the Merrick Barn on the Homewood campus of Johns Hopkins University, 3400 N. Charles St. Show times are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2:15 p.m. Sundays through March 17. Tickets cost $12 and $15. Call 410-516-7159.

A diverse lineup

The Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown, W. Va., has announced its 2002 season. The four-play lineup includes two world premieres by up-and-comers and two productions by established playwrights, Sam Shepard and Lee Blessing.

"We really have a compelling season of four diverse stories," said producing director Ed Herendeen. "We're extremely excited to be working with such noted, prominent American writers."

The season, which will run July 12-Aug. 4, includes: Shepard's 2000 drama, The Late Henry Moss, about two brothers confronting their father's death; Blessing's Thief River, about the 50-year relationship between two gay men in rural Minnesota; Catherine Filloux's Silence of God, about a journalist covering the Khmer Rouge and attempting to understand the nature of evil; and Craig Wright's Orange Flower Water, about two families torn apart by an extramarital affair.

Both premieres are by festival alums. Wright is the author of last season's The Pavilion. That play and Orange Flower Water are installments in a proposed four-play series set in Pine City, Minn. Filloux's Mary & Myra was produced in the 2000 festival; her new play is a festival commission.

The 2002 plays will be performed in rotating repertory. Single tickets range from $20 to $25. Four-play subscriptions cost $80-$90. Tickets go on sale April 1. Call 800-999-2283 or visit

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