By Eric Overmyer
Directed by Paul Takacs
Produced by Spooky Action Theater
Reviewed by Tim Treanor
Samuel Johnson once called second marriages the triumph of hope over experience. Spooky Action’s decision to tackle an Eric Overmyer play might have been an example of the same thing. But this time, hope – and Spooky Action – is triumphant.
About two years ago, a major Washington theater produced Eric Overmyer’s big opus, On the Verge – a play so fraught with significance that it had a subtitle. (“The Geography of Yearning.”) It was, I think, an unfortunate experience, and the responsibility was unquestionably Overmyer’s. Anachronistic, obscure, full of implausible dialogue and lousy jokes, it was a prime example of The Hollywood Scriptwriter Turned Into Sophocles, and all the gaudy production values associated with the production could not gainsay it.
Spooky Action, a young, underfunded company, produced a much more modest Overmyer play and, low and behold, it was fun. Dark Rapture is Overmyer’s stab at modern-day noir theater, in which morally bankrupt characters double- and triple-cross each other, and in the end, crime pays and injustice triumphs. While Overmyer’s plotting is neither brilliantly original nor fiendishly clever, he laces his play with crisp lines and juicy dialogue, and both his script and Spooky Action’s production do justice to the genre.
Ray Grimes (Steve McWilliams) disappears one night, apparently fricasseed in a horrendous San Francisco fire. Of more consequence to his faithless wife Julia (Jodi Niehoff), so does $5 million in cash, apparently burned in the self-same fire. This is exceptionally bad news for Julia, as the $5 million (along with an extra $2 million, which she unwisely invested in two thugs, played by Michael Feldsher and Edwin Xavier) was money she was laundering for two magnificos of organized crime (Chuck Young and Sasha Olinick).
To give out the details of the pursuit would be to diminish the pleasure you should take in this plot-driven production. Suffice it to say that Ray is not dead; that he has occasion to take up with two women – one (Debra Buounaccorsi) with a remarkable story to tell, and another (Hilary Kacser) with a predilection to match Ray lie for lie, double-cross for double-cross. Hovering over all of this is the malevolent presence of one Babcock (Manolo Santalla). His ultimate secret, revealed at the end of the play, defies credulity, but the struggle to understand up to that point is loaded with fun.
Director Takacs gets outstanding performances from Kacser, whose guise as a honeyed Southern sweetie camouflages a woman built for calculating her main chance; Young, whose furious crime boss recalls Jackie Gleason; Olinick, who once again finds the strange and the endearing in his character; and Santalla in two roles.
Above all is Feldsher’s magnificent portrayal of a criminal who is both self-righteous and immoral; his scene with Santalla who plays a Turkish used-car dealer, of all things is the most riveting and harrowing of the play. Feldsher also plays Julie’s boy toy, a completely different character, so well that it is difficult to recognize him in the role.
McWilliams in the lead role, on the other hand, is a little disappointing. Noir protagonists, whether in film, novel or theatre, are a little flattened emotionally. They radiate a seeming indifference, but it is an indifference borne of deep and wounded cynicism – a sort of insouciance. McWilliams’ indifference, by contrast, seems a sort of disengagement, similar to that of the Washington defensive backs against the Patriots a couple of weeks ago.
Spooky Action, lacking the resources of, say, Shakespeare Theatre’s glittering new Harman Hall facility, nonetheless moves the story along crisply from scene to scene, thanks in large part to the efficient and diligent backstage work of Kelly Brasseau. (Sam Goldblatt was the Stage Manager).
With On the Verge, Overmyer showed that he was capable of taking himself too seriously. With Dark Rapture, Overmyer demonstrates that he can be a damn good playwright when he remembers to have fun. And with this production, Spooky Action shows itself to be a company which bears watching – and, more importantly, a company whose productions deserve to be watched.
Where: Montgomery College Theater, corner of Philadelphia and Chicago Avenues, Takoma Park, MD.
When: Thursdays through Sundays until Dec. 2. Sundays are at 2 p.m.; other shows are at 8 p.m. No show Thursday Nov. 22; additional show Nov. 25 at 7 p.m.
Tickets: $10 ($5 students).
Information: 1.800.494.TIXS or visit their website.