EVIDENCE ROOM PRESENTS
Charles Blackwell - Nick Offerman
Director - Bart DeLorenzo
Assistant Director - Megan Mullally
Stage Manager - Beth Mack
Graphic Design - Colleen Wainwright
July 23 - September 3, 2005
Los Angeles TimesSome plays are all about setting the scene. "Killers," the latest offering at Evidence Room, is that kind of play.
It’s the 1950s, oh-so-early in the a.m., in a dilapidated boarding house. The writer (Nick Offerman), scarred physically and emotionally, sits poised painfully over his manual typewriter, surrounded by crumpled pieces of paper. His index finger twitches with potential inspiration.
In the kitchen, the old man (Tom Fitzpatrick) cusses at the writer’s incessant clacking on the typewriter keys, then reaches once again for the bottle of whisky he keeps under the sink. The neurotic, young and penniless boarder (Michael Cassady) emerges, in only his underwear, for his nightly sleepwalk. When he returns, the landlady (Jacqueline Wright), out for a smoke and looking disheveled and depressed, demands her rent.
Add a dangerous stranger – or, at least, the landlady’s recently un-incarcerated husband (Leo Marks) – to this motley mix, along with the whisky, cigarettes, loneliness and pent-up frustration, and you’ve got ... a lot of noir-ish atmosphere.
Sure, there’s a story in Killers, involving – an ominous-sounding chord here, please – murder. But that's really beside the point. John Olive’s play is purely a vessel for style, an opportunity for director Bart DeLorenzo and his ace ensemble to fondle – with palpable affection – the pulp artistry of Charles Bukowski and Jim Thompson’s writing, and John Coltrane’s music.
The design work is ultra-sharp, and the performances drippingly juicy. The production draws you into the pulp world instantly. That’s a fun place to be, even though the show doesn’t fully thrill. It lacks the final surge of dramatic electricity – the sexual tensions and moments of danger are distant rather than immediate.
But who needs electricity when you’ve got this many sparks?
– Steven Oxman
Under the skillful direction of Bart DeLorenzo and a first-rate acting ensemble, John Olive’s pulp-fiction, film-noir style Killers – an homage to pulp writers Jim Thompson and Charles Bukowski and jazz artist John Coltrane – is adroit, edgy and great fun.
Olive’s Killers evokes memories that bring back the likes of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and James M. Cain, and their more contemporary counterparts Thompson and Bukowski – with the unforgettable sounds of Coltrane.
The trick is to get the world of pulp noir right. Without a moral center (or a sense of good), pulp noir is conditioned by a nightmare world that borders on hellish nihilism, with no good guys wearing white hats coming to the rescue. Just think of a void within a greater void, and you’ve got the world of Killers.
All is set is a seedy rooming house in a Midwestern city in the 1950s. Credit Shannon Scrofano for the authentic two-room set: the unadorned room of writer Charles Blackwell and the kitchen (complete with the chrome and plastic of the ’50s); Ann Cross-Farley for the authentic costumes; Rand Ryan for the effective lighting; and John Zalewski for the jazz sounds.
As for boarders, there’s a group of quirky pulp noir characters: Earl (the expert stage veteran Tom Fitzpatrick), the World War II veteran on a government pension who sits at the kitchen table, drinks Jim Beam and tries to rid himself of battlefield memories; Lou (Michael Cassady is first-rate), the gay, high-strung grifter and hustler who walks in his sleep; the crazed and loopy landlady (the wonderful Jacqueline Wright), who hates her returning husband and plots his murder, and the sadistic landlord (the chilling Leo Marks), who is obsessed with love, jealousy and rage. All are raw, on the edge and have little or no restraint.
All the while, scruffy thriller writer Blackwell, traveling incognito, sits at his portable Underwood typewriter and struggles for an ending to his latest novel. Nick Offerman is an engrossing Blackwell, a blend of sarcasm, hurt and aloofness. And try as he might to escape the crazy shenanigans in the boarding house, he ultimately is sucked into a world that is much more sinister and obsessive than anything he is creating on his typewriter – where art and life merge and there's no telling one from the other.
– Ed Kaufman