A good farce is the rarest of theatrical achievements: the dialogue must be smart and snappy; a breakneck pace of antics, mistaken identities, and misunderstandings must be maintained; the blackouts must be minimal; and the actors must deliver a seamless series of multiple characterizations, changing their costumes and their attitudes in the time it takes to move a couple of set pieces and advance the lighting board.
There's all that and more in Firehouse Theater's regional premiere of Michael Hollinger's "Red Herring," a film noir, Cold War spy-thriller send-up directed by Christopher Leo at Colorado Free University's John Hand Theatre (in the new Lowry).
Maggie, a high-heeled flatfoot, and Frank, a flat-topped G-man, are good for each other. She's got him on the wagon, and he's bought a pair of tickets on a honeymoon cruise to Havana. Then life interrupts with the murder of a Soviet spy and the game is afoot.
Trina Magness and Ed Cord get things rolling with a scintillating, pulp-fiction dialogue that sends us back to the early '50's, where Joe McCarthy's daughter (L. Corwin Christie) is engaged to a free-lance spy (Todd Webster) who sweet talks her into making a drop—a microfilm of atomic secrets—to a Kremlin plant (Dell Domnik) currently having an affair with the duplicitous Mrs. Kravitz (Susie Leiser).
Magness' rich mezzo delivery and saintly patience, Cord's true blue heart and level-headed persistence, Christie's hyperbolic effervescence and improbable voice, Webster's blinding grin and devious eyes, Dell Domnik's dry delivery and caustic wit, and Susie Leiser's disarming straight-talk and comedic timing all make for a lively mix.
Leo's concise direction and stylish sound design-a mix of old radio tracks, pop tunes from the era, and mischievous sound effects-heighten the noirish satire. Stuart Barr's economic set works wonders while Kris Hipps costumes accent the hilarity.
The ensemble does an admirable job generally confining itself to the same ballpark of dockside dialects, and their array of deadpan visages is worthy of Buster Keaton. The effect of all these comedic trappings—other than a couple of scenes that slowed the pace—is a level of campiness that left us giddy.
The U.S. is in dire need of a playwright who can write a good farce and Hollinger is off to a flying start. He has a musician's sense of dynamics and orchestration, an ear for the disarming phrase, and a sense of humor that cuts to the heart of cultural pomposity. It's the perfect prescription for a world gone mad fighting terror with terror.
Firehouse Theater's production of Red Herring runs through May 26th. 303-562-3232.