Written by Kiran Rikhye
Directed by Jon Stancato
Reviewed by Sander Gusinow
Theatre Reviews Limit
If Eugène Ionesco and Martin McDonagh watched The Maltese Falcon, they may very well have come up with something akin to Stolen Chair’s Kill Me Like You Mean It; but it wouldn’t be nearly as good as the comedic masterwork currently running at Fourth Street Theatre.
When private eye Ben Farrell is hired to investigate a series of crimes seemingly inspired by a pulp-fiction writers detective stories, he’s shocked to discover that the next predicted murder will almost certainly be his own. Yes, it’s a premise we’ve all seen before, but playwright Kiran Rikhye’s script is unfathomably witty. Her play is at once a caricature and love letter to the noir genre, embracing it’s hyper-inflated gravitas, outrageous plots, and machinegun banter. At the same time she tosses in enough linguistic tomfoolery to keep listeners hanging on every word, terrified to miss her next subtle gem.
It’s director Jon Stancato’s razor-edge stylisation that lifts the play from good to great. What would usually be classified as zaney vaudeville or absurdist shtick weaves effortlessly into the play. Hat-swapping lazzi, clownish slapping routines, and a running gag that makes our hero go through cigarettes like a hot knife through butter all add up to a show not just noir parody, but an ingeniously successful stylistic love-child.
But none of Kill Me’s fun could be had without a cast capable of selling the hell out of it. Thankfully, the ensemble delivers at every turn. The actors suffuse their characters the bravado to not only make the absurdity seem normal, but also imbue them with the broken-winged-angels aesthetic so captivating in noir heroes. Nathan Derro is a competent straight man as the ever-intense Ben Farrell. Natalie Hegg delivers the most striking performance of the evening as Lydia Forsythe, a squirrely, secretive, secretary. Her facial tics alone could get laughs reading the phonebook.
There are but two pebbles in this splendid production’s boot. Try as the pinstripe-wearing stagehands might, the transitions take far too long. However, when one considers the sheer volume of scenic glitz, it’s a wonder the changeovers don’t take longer. The second, and perhaps more sobering observation, is that the show’s ending should have been much more ingenious. Not to give anything away, but for all the play’s early momentum, the final reveal seems pithy by comparison.
But there’s no denying: Kill Me Like You Mean It is comic, genre-savvy genius; an impressive undertaking of the highest caliber. If the run isn’t’ extended, it would be the biggest off-Broadway mystery in decades.