Laura, Free Associates, at the Ivanhoe Theater. The hard-boiled 40s dialogue and characters of this classic noir, about a detective who falls in love with an apparent murder victim, would seem to make it a perfect target for the Free Associates' genre satire. But the company plays it fairly straight, producing a rather stodgy, mothballed staging of a drawing-room whodunit that has little in common with Otto Preminger's haunting 1944 film, based on Vera Caspary's novel (she and George Sklar wrote the script the Free Associates use).
In any case noir would be tough to pull off in color on a tiny, harshly lit stage. And alas, this version has no Gene Tierney or Judith Anderson, no mood-setting black-and-white cinematography. Its suspense must depend on the somewhat predictable plot and the performances. But with the exception of John Gawlik, whose deadpan take on the smitten Detective McPherson effectively bridges the gap between parody and homage, the performances here are too mannered to be credible but not mannered enough to succeed as campy satire. Among the bevy of usual suspects, there's nary a one whose immediate arrest wouldn't come as a relief.
When McPherson finally nails his man, sluggish pacing robs what should be a spine-tingling climax of much of its dramatic import. Those who've seen the film will find little to sustain them here. And those who haven't will find precious little reason to search it out. --Adam Langer