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The Tangled Snarl


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Raven Theatre Company

Why, why, why, why, why would anyone try to do yet another parody of detective movies? Everyone from Neil Simon to the Firesign Theater to the Bowery Boys to Roger Rabbit, not to mention hordes of improvisational comedy troupes, has tackled this genre, and if there is anything new to say about Sam Spade and company, you won't find it in The Tangled Snarl, the very talky, not very funny, nearly actionless parody of 1940s detective movies currently being performed at the Raven Theatre. Authors John Rustan and Frank Semerano clearly know their way around all the old comedy tricks--they are especially adept at wordplay and repeating gags--but they are content to follow a path worn by countless others who have wandered this way before them.

Their hero is Spuds Idaho, a half-baked detective who thinks he's hard-boiled. Like hundreds of dicks before him, he has a small office with his name on the door, a pretty secretary who loves him, and a partner, Legs Flamingo, who was killed the night before. Spuds, however, lacks a knight-on-a-quest commitment to uncovering the truth about Flamingo's murder. He'd rather sit around his office playing with words--something he doesn't do nearly as well as Firesign Theater's Nick Danger--while he waits for the truth to come to him.

And come she does, in the classic form of Leslie Detweiler, a leggy, knockout brunette. Legs Flamingo, it turns out, was her husband, and she knows Flamingo gave Spuds a mysterious package to give to his wife a short time before he was killed. She's come for that package.

Spuds has other ideas, and for the next 45 minutes or so, while she tries to seduce him, he quizzes her about the murder, tediously unraveling the relatively uninteresting mystery of who really killed Flamingo. It turns out that Legs had connections with the notorious mob boss Fingers Scampi and that, as Spuds puts it, "Fingers had Legs under his thumb." (That line, by the way, is one of the best in the show.)

From time to time, the interrogation cum seduction is interrupted by one of three secondary characters in the story--the Kid, a cheeky newspaper boy who wants to be paid; the Man, Detweiler's violent butler with something to hide; and Ginny, Spuds's ever loyal, ever jealous private secretary, who has a real knack for showing up just when things are getting especially down and dirty between Spuds and Detweiler. In the end we find out who killed Legs Flamingo, but we are never told why we should care. Or laugh.

Although Shon Little in the standard-issue gumshoe hat looks the part of Spuds Idaho, he lacks the cynical world-weariness that makes for a good private eye. Also, Little tries a little too hard to make Spuds's flaccid material funny, telegraphing punch lines and overreacting to every plot turn, which only makes the comedy in the show seem that much more labored and Spuds's awful lines even less funny.

At the other end of the spectrum, Eric Saiet was so rightly cast as the wisecracking newsboy that he makes the tritest of material seem genuinely funny. Karl T. Wright (the Man) and the incredibly tall Susan McLaughlin (Detweiler) also show some ability as comic actors, although that ability is for the most part wasted. Poor Mr. Wright is reduced to throwing himself out the window--not once but twice--for a laugh. And poor Ms. McLaughlin has nothing to do in the play's male-dominated universe but seduce and seduce again.

Even for a parody, The Tangled Snarl is pretty trivial stuff. In the end, all this long one-act proves is how tapped out the premise is.

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