A RED DEATH, Chicago Theatre Company. Hard-boiled novelists like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler endure despite outlandish characterizations and implausibly convoluted plots because they always maintain suspense. Contemporary detective writer Walter Mosley follows in their tradition, but in this stage version of his mystery, adapter David Barr and director Delia Jolly Gray have let the idiosyncrasies of Mosley's plot and characters get the better of them, creating a giddy but discursive, contrived drama.
Set in McCarthy-era LA, where world-weary Easy Rawlins is enlisted to spy on a Jewish communist rabble-rouser in the black community, the story is delightfully complex, but onstage it plays as if Mosley made it up as he went along. Suspense is sorely lacking in this piece, which commands our interest according to the skills and charisma of whatever actor happens to be performing. Daniel Bryant as Rawlins's bloodthirsty friend Mouse and El Feigo N. Goodum as a sullen police officer are never less than riveting. But whenever the shrill Martin Bedoian appears as a stammering IRS man, the play devolves into painfully dull slapstick. Douglas Alan-Mann as Rawlins gives a performance more lethargic than disaffected, failing to make our hero's ever-more-complicated plight of more than passing interest. By the time Barr gets around to rescuing Rawlins from his predicament with a series of explanations involving government conspiracies, stolen bomb blueprints, and a faked suicide, the resolution has long since ceased to matter. --Adam Langer