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A CurtainUp Review

I lived with someone for years. I couldn't stand her. It was just likebeing married. ---Michael to Kate, while discussing Kate's marriage to Jeffrey.

The world premiere of Bruce Kimmel's Deceit hypes thrills and scares, leading one to believe that said thrills and scares will emerge. Sadly, this play delivers few of the former and none of the latter, and includes a few unintentionally funny bits.

I can't reveal too much of the plot without ruining the multitude of plot zigs and zags. Briefly, the action takes place entirely in a Manhattan apartment on a stormy night (scary). The apartment belongs to Kate (Tammy Minoff), whose husband Jeffrey (Greg Albanese) recently died in a boating accident. That the couple enjoys a Manhattan address and sailing implies somebody has some money. Greg's friend from childhood Michael (Matthew Ashford) arrives to deliver an old VHS tape of Jeffrey's birthday to Kate, and decides to stay for a drink. Intrigue surrounding the nature of Kate and Jeffrey's relationship ensues. Suffice to say that the title is apt, if not overly subtle.

Deceit desperately wants to be a thriller in the noir vein, as evidenced by a rain, lightning, and thunder effect; the discussion of plotting and death; and the confined space of the apartment. Unfortunately, it appears as though the director didn't let the actors know that they're not doing Shakespeare. Noir thrillers demand to be terse, flat, and confined and call for hidden emotions and enigmatic motives. Instead, all three actors play their characters big, to the point that they're almost shouting.

The interplay between Michael and Kate should be a tense cat and mouse game. The audience should be unnerved by Kate's sly sexual innuendo. Not so here. Minoff's rather clumsy portrayal of the "grieved" widow scuttles the undertone. Ashford seems to be channeling the spirit of John Dall from Hitchcock's Rope, but at five times the volume. Their interaction gives the first act an odd disconnect from its intentions and cause it to feel almost campy. The banter also is more flat than witty (an example: Michael asks of another couples' child, "Who names their child 'Roman?' Does he have a brother named 'Greco?'")

Without giving away too much, it could be argued that developments in the second act explains the odd tone of the first act, but I'm not sure I buy that . No matter what the plot twists, the audience shouldn't be scratching their heads trying to figure out why two actors are seemingly in a different play than the one on stage. Besides, the tone of the play doesn't noticeably change later on.

While the story is fairly well put together and holds up under scrutiny, one of the key plot points strains the audience's credulity. I think it would be safe to say that the characters define the term "over-react." One of the problems with setting a noirish thriller in modern times is that social convention has changed so much. It's much easier these days to get a divorce than, say, plot to wipe out one's family.

The show is not without effective moments, the aforementioned storm effect being one of them. A murder scene with a simulated wrist slashing is also fairly creepy and video technology is put to good use to allow the dead husband to have some lines in the first act. If only Kimmel and the actors were more in tune with the genre of Deceit, it might have half a chance of succeeding in delivering more of the promised thrills and scares.

Playwright & Director: Bruce Kimmel

Cast: Greg Albanese (Jeffrey), Matthew Ashford (Michael), Tammy Minoff (Kate)
Scenic Design: Matt Scarpino
Lighting Design: Susan Marino
Running time:Approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes, including a 10 minute intermission
The El Portal Forum Theatre .
5629 Lankershim Boulevard, N. Hollywood, CA 91601
From 1/13/06 to 3/5/06
Thursday through Saturday @ 8pm, Sunday @ 2pm
All seats $25

Reviewed by David Avery based on 1/14/06 performance
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