La Vie Noir, A CurtainUp Off-Off Broadway review, CurtainUp

The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings






Etcetera and
Short Term Listings


NYC Restaurants


New Jersey







Free Updates
Writing for Us

A CurtainUp Review
La Vie Noir

I wonder what brings any of us to the Blue Heron in a storm —Cody
Sounds like a movie — Betty
You'll be hearing yourself say that again —Cora
I think there are places that really bring out the movie in you —Cody
As Cody so aptly puts it in the interchange quoted at the top of this review, there are places that bring out the movie in you. That's especially true if it happens to be a stormy Tuesday night and the place is the Blue Heron Bar. Though the bar looks as if it could be in a bungalow in some tropical island but is actually a forty-story elevator ride up a high rise in a middle American city so that the only thing tropical here is the decor.

Cody's connection to the movies goes back to being named after the psychopath in White Heat because he was portrayed by his mom's favorite movie star, James Cagney. To play Cody, who until he got "over-saturated," taught a course in 1930s and 1940s gangster movies, we have Jim Neu who just happens to be the author of this nifty little sendup of just such movies.

Jim Neu and  Mary Shultz in La Vie Noir
Jim Neu and Mary Shultz two strangers whose meeting at a bar seems for him to have a "cinematic quality" which prompts her to ask "are we in it or at it?" and him to respond "the eternal question." (Photo: Jonathan Slaff)
To turn Cody's deadpan delivery of the A-quality, B-movie noirish dialogue into a verbal ping-pong game, we have Mary Shultz matching him line for elliptical line as a Barbara Stanwyck/Elizabeth Scott lady of a certain age name Cora Carlisle. She too owes her name to a movie smitten mother— in her case, mom "liked the way John Garfield said Cora" Shultz is obviously attuned to Neu's style. She's worked in seven of his twenty plays and it shows. She and the actor-playwright are a terrific team. But this is a full-featured show with a seven member cast and plenty of theatrical oomph.

La MaMa e.t.c.'s postage stamp sized stage has not deterred Keith McDermott, who's been Neu's frequent director, from creating a production loaded with atmosphere. Meg Zeder's deliciously chintzy bar set even includes an elevator to deliver the rest of the cast along with a picture window through which we can keep an eye on the increasingly ominous storm (a marvel of Jacob Burckhardt's stage craftmanship). As for the people entering the bar as the elevator reaches the 40th floor, each could have stepped right out of some long ago black and white flick. All are different and too eccentric to pass as your average Heartland citizen and, in typical noir fashion, a common thread of obsession, anxietiy and disappointment runs through the histories that come to light before the storm runs its course.

No sooner are Cody and Cora acquainted than in pops another alliteratively named character, Betty Borcus (downtown favorite, Black-Eyed Susan). Betty, gets a big surprise when Ivy, (Deborah Auer), the Blue Heron's chanteuse who loves lightning and thunder ("I would put lightning and thunder in my contract if I could") sings a song called "Merry Widow of Terace Town" which is a ballad about Betty's own Roxie Hart saga.

Another eccentric to come on scene is Peter (Agosto Machado), a sociometric analyst in the research branch of the Department of the Interior whose trend tracking activities are currently focused on "tropicalization" which according to him puts the Blue Heron on the cutting edge of a cultural undercurrent surging across the country since. It seems that "tropical themes are popping up in numbers that are off every chart in the Bureau's history" which has the whole country apparently "trying to turn into Cancun." This and the tension of being in a high rise not only hit by lightning but possibly in the path of a more devastating disaster, a tornado, hints at serious concerns underlying all this —but not enough so to keep this from being a laugh a minute.

Of course, no satire like this would be complete without a gangster, better yet, two. And so we have an odd couple with homogenized American names — Scott Bennett (Tony Nunziata) for gangster #1 and Paul Gordon (John Costelloe) for #2 — names given them courtesy of the witness protection program. Unsurprisingly, gangster #1, the tough and dangerous looking one, turns out to be a rather unconventional romantic.

I suppose you could call La Vie Noir a musical when you consider that Ivy the chanteuse gets a second number and that there's a hilarious tango choreographed by Harry Mann. And, oh yes, there's an ensemble songfest of "Night and Day " that's intended to ensure that there is a day after night ("because nobody ever dies in a musical") and that's saved from making Frank Sinatra turn in his grave by Scott the gangster's guiding the singers to pick up the tempo.

This kind of comedy with music has been done before. In fact, I saw a much higher profile movie parody, Adrift in Macao, less than two weeks ago (review). However, Mr. Neu's text and lyrics are sharper and funnier, and he has the good sense to know when to end things, instead of overstaying his welcome. At $15 a ticket this is not only fun but a big bang for the buck recommendation.

Text and lyrics by Jim Neu
Directed by Keith McDermott
Music is by Neal Kirkwood (Merry Widow of Terrace Town) and Harry Mann (White Lotus Lagoon); Words by Jim Neu

Cast: Mary Shultz (Cora Carlisle), Black-Eyed Susan (Betty Borcus), Jim Neu (Cody Bates), John Costelloe (Paul Gordon), Tony Nunziata (Scott Bennett), Deborah Auer (Ivy), Agosto Machado (Peter Furyk), Chris Maresco (Myrna)
Sets & Costumes: Meg Zeder
Lights: Carol Mullins
Storm Design: Jacob Burckhart
Tango Choreography: Harry Mann
Running Time: 60 minutes without intermission
La MaMa E.T.C. (First Floor Theater), 74A East Fourth Street (212) 475-7710;
From 2/15/07 to 3/04/07
Thursdays to - Saturdays at 8:00 pm; Sundays at 2:30 pm
Tickets: $15
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer February 18th.
broadway musicals: the 101 greatest shows of all time
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.

Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide

At This Theater Cover
At This Theater

Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide

The Broadway Theatre Archive>


©Copyright 2007, Elyse Sommer.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from