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Femme Fatale

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FEMME FATALE

Mary-Arrchie Theatre

He's a New York cabbie, bitter and street-smart. She's a sweet nurse dressed in white, as pure as the driven snow. Or is she? Maybe there's something more to her, maybe she's hiding something. Maybe there's a murder in her past, something involving a silk tie, a broken lamp, and a $100,000 inheritance she collected when the cabdriver's father died of an apparent heart attack.

He follows her in his cab, but she won't go for a ride with him. He gets her in the cab and tries to get her to spill the beans, but she won't tell him what he wants to hear. She escapes. He tracks her down. They return to the scene of the crime. There's a gun, a razor blade, and a wardrobe of slinky lingerie. Who's deceiving whom? Who can be trusted? What does it all add up to? And ultimately, who really cares?

It should come as no surprise to anyone who sees Femme Fatale that its author, Michael Wolk, has recently written a Hollywood screenplay described in the program as "a Mafia-Vampire love story." Femme Fatale reads like an easy Hollywood sell--all plot twists, easily identifiable characters, sex, rape, murder, and deception. The two-character script is a pastiche of Hollywood stereotypes, somewhere between a B-movie thriller and a Stan Ridgway song. Despite the first-rate acting, set dressing, and professional direction the Mary-Arrchie Theatre has provided the play, nothing can save it from itself.

Wolk makes his two contrasting characters speak in opposing cliched rhythms. The cabbie, Josh Gold (Richard Cotovsky), is a hard-boiled salt-of-the-earth type who uncorks lines like "You're not drivin' on the streets, you're drivin' on energy"; he introduces his speeches with the eternal cabbie's "Lemme tell ya somethin'." Michele McKnight (Heather Graff) is prim and proper--after the cabbie's kidnapped her, she demands of him: "Please inform me just why you've abducted me."

Femme Fatale could have been a fun, silly caper in a film noir style if the play had provided even a hint of plausibility. Regrettably, there's none. Josh and Michele alternately threaten each other with weapons and attempt to seduce each other with an arbitrariness that's almost comical. And every time the play introduces some new revelation meant to explain a character's motives, the revelation raises five new questions the play never gets around to answering. Some moments are clearly meant to be suspenseful, but the play creates no tension. There's no mystery as to whether Michele will get into the cab with Josh, or whether he'll track her down after she runs away from him. How could there be? They're the only two characters in the play.

It seems as though Wolk is trying for some weighty theme beneath the stock plot elements. He gives each scene a cool, evocative title (like "Goddam Mysterious," "Ouija Ride," and "No Show Sunrise") and introduces issues like the difficulty of coming to terms with one's past and the need to cut away deceptions to truly understand oneself. We learn about Michele's violent, traumatic past and Josh's unresolved relationship with his dead father, but any serious discussion of issues is undermined by the Fatal Attraction-style plotting. Maybe once Scorsese buys the rights and gets DeNiro and Kathleen Turner to fill in the major roles and demands a few rewrites, this will be a good watch. As it stands now, Femme Fatale just seems silly.

Mary Arrchie's production is as good as can be expected. Cotovsky is especially strong as Josh, and Graff does what she can with the schizophrenic role of Michele. Joel Klaff and Patrick Kerwin have provided costumes and a set with some real urban grit, including the masterstroke of a makeshift Checker cab. There are moments when you look at this set and you hear the suspenseful music (sound design by Kenny James) underscoring one of Cotovsky's brooding, sarcastic speeches and you see the potential for a wonderfully interesting character study. Then the plot returns and ruins everything.

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