'Filthy Rich,' a modern 'Odyssey,' stingy on humor

theater review

November 09, 2008|By Mary Carole McCauley | Mary Carole McCauley,mary.mccauley@baltsun.com

I've always thought that the first and most perfect film noir was created by a guy named Homer.

(And, no, children, I'm not referring to the animated cartoon star of The Simpsons, but to the ancient Greek poet.)

There's a middle-aged guy on a boat who has fallen on hard times, but still is crafty like a fox. He's adrift at sea and utterly lost, but he won't ask for directions. During his adventures, he runs afoul of thugs and man-eating femme fatales. Our hero even has an idealistic young sidekick, who sees the washed-up soldier as the great man he once was.

Yep, The Odyssey devised every single convention of the genre, with the possible exception of zoot suits and wailing saxophones.

Homer's little epic generated numerous offspring, including Filthy Rich, an enjoyable, if not fully realized spoof currently running at Everyman Theatre.

FOR THE RECORD - A theater review in Sunday's Arts & Entertainment section misspelled two names. Filthy Rich is directed by Daniel De Raey, and Scott Hamilton Westerman plays the role of Henry "The Pig" Duvall.
The Baltimore Sun regrets the errors.

This production features uniformly strong performances, including actor Bob Rogerson, channeling Clint Eastwood as a hard-drinking private eye - and a set that exudes period atmosphere down to the cracked linoleum floor tile.

But the play itself never seems entirely sure if it wants to parody the genre or provide an example of it. And Daniel DeRaey's direction imbues the proceedings with a weightiness that the writing can't support.

Playwright George M. Walker's comedy features a down-on-his-luck private investigator named Tyrone Power (Rogerson). He's hired by two wealthy, beautiful sisters to find a mayoral candidate who has gone missing under mysterious circumstances. The cast includes a police officer trying to find the politician for his own reasons, a hitman who is dating one of the sisters and an eager-beaver delivery boy.

In a comedy, it's generally not a good sign if the audience isn't laughing, and the performance I saw generated relatively few chuckles until late in the first act. Many individual lines are quite funny - for instance, the delivery boy, Jamie, says at one point, "I want to skip the middle class and go directly to indescribable wealth."

But, the actors deliver the lines in such a matter-of-fact manner that much of the humor gets lost.

DeRaey deliberately downplays the comedy; he's said he doesn't want the audience to miss the heartbreak underlying the jests. But, I think he may have overdone it. Walker's characters really aren't all that multifaceted and complex. They're types, and the author mostly holds them up for laughs. Even the misanthropic private eye's sensitive streak is intentionally absurd; his only friends are his two goldfish.

That said, Filthy Rich also can't stand on its own as pure comedy. The playwright sometimes is too clever for his own good. For example, a plot so convoluted that it can only be told as a narrative - with one character reciting the facts as laid forth in a letter - was probably meant as a comment on the genre. But, from the audience's standpoint, it's still tough to follow.

The director, nonetheless, elicits fine performances from the cast. Rogerson, with his shock of silver hair and craggy visage, bears an almost eerie resemblance to the man who uttered the immortal line, "Go ahead, make my day."

But Rogerson subtly undermines the stereotype, letting his mouth hang open just enough to suggest that his character might be one pint short of a full fifth.

Actor Scott Kerns gives his portrayal of Jamie the delivery boy an energy and enthusiasm that takes the edge off his facade of callousness. He is that rarest of beings: an optimistic cynic. Beth Hylton (Anne) and Megan Anderson (Susan) keep the audience guessing as to which of the sisters is a witch. Scott Hamilton exudes real menace as Harry "The Pig" Duvall, while Stephen Patrick Martin's Detective Stackhouse is like a hard-boiled egg - a tough surface, but spongy middle.

The entire show takes place in Power's office, and Daniel Ettinger's set exudes period atmosphere, from the lamps that cast a dingy, yellow light to the rickety fire escape. Sound designer Mark Anduss has devised several cheekily playful musical cues.

These elements help the audience understand what's going on, though they don't ultimately fix the central problem. When everything is said and done, Filthy Rich is still all Greek to me.

if you go

Filthy Rich runs at Everyman Theatre, 1727 N. Charles St., through Dec. 14. Show times: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 2 p.m., 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m., 7:30 p.m. Sundays. $24-$38. 410-752-2208 or go to everymantheatre.org.

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