Almost Blue, Next Theatre Company.
An homage to the noir tradition, Keith Reddin's semithriller began life as a teleplay--a fact that sadly still shows. Though Almost Blue is energetically performed by a well-cast quartet in Steve Pickering's taut and evocative staging for Next Theatre, the play remains a formulaic actors' exercise, soaked in atmosphere but dramatically unsatisfying despite its supposedly staggering ending.
Existing mainly for its final shock effect, this is the kind of drama that drives critics bonkers: we can't reveal the final twist--though it's the play's weakest moment, resolving nothing and leaving big questions about the characters' fates unanswered. At 90 minutes, Reddin's play feels both padded and unfinished.
Phil is a burned-out, self-hating ex-con hitting the bottle in a fleabag tenement located next to a roaring railroad (or, judging from Phil Lavine's sound design, on it). He strikes up a flash-fire affair with Liz, his ex-cellmate's blond and dangerous wife. But hope is a killer in noir stories, so Phil must be punished for his pleasure: he's threatened into killing Liz. Doggedly trying to assist him is Blue, the mousy gay neighbor who'll do anything to free Phil from his demons, real and imagined.
The cast are clockwork. Thomas Kelly's hangdog Phil makes a stunning contrast to Soseh Kevorkian's man-eating Liz, a Sharon Stone clone who improves on the original. An even more divergent pair are William J. Norris's self-effacing Blue, a cipher who feeds on the sensations of others, and Michael Park Ingram's silky-smooth thug, a macho, muscular menace. But unfortunately Reddin loses track of this dark force, a lapse that James M. Cain or Raymond Chandler would never have allowed.