Mysterious Flowers

venus-flytrap-playVenus Flytrap: a Femme Noir Mystery
Written by Anthony Dodge
Directed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge
The Active Theater, NYC
Through November 14, 2010

It is New York in 1943. Most men are in uniform and women are doing many a "man's job." Thus we find "Butch" Diamond (Xanthe Elbrick), called upon to be a private dick for the deviate underclass. This is the world of Venus Flytrap. What ensues is a prime example of hilarious and inventive burlesque, parody, satire, and farce (admixed with a healthy helping of absurdism). At the same time, the play honors the noir idiom, giving the show levels of richness beyond its comedic antics.

This send-up of noir goes where no man has gone before. Butch, as she calls herself, an avowed lesbian who is not really all that butch, draws her clients from the flotsam and jetsam of Manhattan. Her primary client of the evening is Tom Blackmer (Jose Luaces), a dramatically effeminate young man who shows up in uniform shortly after he is dishonorably discharged from the Marines. He engages Butch to locate his missing twin brother, Todd. The ensuing search and mystery has more colorful and harrowing twists and turns than California's Highway 1. Leading the way is a monograph on the Venus Flytrap found among Todd's belongings.

This play produces its rollicking results from fine comic performances, equally partnered with the inventive and clever scenic design by Michael Schweikardt, Bobby Pearce's era-appropriate and eccentric costumes, the atmospheric lighting by Paul Miller, the punctuating sounds from Acme Sound Partners, and the broad range of wigs and hair designed by Edward J. Wilson. Marcia Milgrom Dodge’s direction masterfully melds all this fine talent with actors who, under her guidance, extract every last bit of comic potential from playwright Anthony Dodge's dialogue and action. Again, in addition to the comedy, there is something wonderfully respectful in the way the familiar noir tough talk is presented. You have the comic element on one hand and something akin to an anthropological recreation of a “lost culture.”

Paradoxically, Butch is -- not unpleasantly -- the straightest character in the play, all her manly pretenses aside. She encounters an array of folk gleaned from Raymond Chandler’s dusty stable, only here they are gussied up for the occasion. We have got hard-boiled Lieutenant Shanahan (Matt Loney), a devout Catholic who lambastes Butch's inversion, while tailing her so as to "pin something on her." There is Peepers (Jason Emanuel) the blind newsstand guy who is Butch's eyes and ears. The mysterious, grizzled, wheelchair-bound Professor Zolton Modovan (Richard B. Watson) is the mad scientist who has written the world’s foremost treatise on guess what? -- the Venus Flytrap! Velma (Grace Gealey) shows up as the beautiful and seductive nurse attending to Butch’s needs in the wee hours of the morning. Finally, we have The Woman (Raissa Dorf), and it would just be telling to reveal the number of guises and wigs in which she appears.

This play is proof positive that the extended "comic bit" is still extant, and that there are young actors who can do them with the skill of the old-timers of stage, screen, and vaudeville. Two bits in particular stand out: Butch putting on her clothes after having been surreptitiously drugged; Professor Modovan as he summons his servant. Sounds like nothing on paper, but wait until you see it and you will witness comic hilarity at its finest.

This play is a "mystery" -- but there is no mystery to the fact that you will be laughing your head off at Venus Flytrap. - Jay Reisberg

jay-reisberg-photo

Mr. Reisberg is a UCLA film school grad, professional singer, comedian, assistant to the founder of New York's Love Street Theatre and bon vivant at large.

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