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Theatre On Fire’s ‘Almost Blue’ Is Red Hot

James Bocock and Erin Brehm in "Almost Blue." (Courtesy, Theatre on Fire)

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Theatre on Fire’s latest offering, “Almost Blue,” by Keith Reddin, is a quick-talking, suspenseful ride through a seedy culture of ex-cons, ex-wives, and ex-porno writers.

Reddin’s style is dryly witty and quick-moving, where the joke is usually hidden in a random surprise, little landmines of laughter littered throughout gritty realistic situations. Given the film noir style, I was expecting a drunken private investigator and a helpless damsel in distress. The play opened and I immediately had my drunk, but he was an ex-con, and while I also had my damsel in distress, she was anything but helpless. Round out the cast of characters with a slimy villain and the eccentric neighbor downstairs and you’ve got a play [at the Charlestown Working Theatre through May 18).

Phil has been out of the big house for 5 1/2 months, and he wishes more than anything to be still there. He's hiding something in his past, something so awful he drinks until he passes out every night. Liz was married to a friend of Phil's from prison, Steve, a real creep according to pretty much everyone. Downstairs from Phil lives Blue, an older gentleman whose past involves sordid adventures writing for Penthouse magazine. (According to Reddin, writing the 'Dear Penthouse' letters is not nearly as exciting, or lucrative, as we might imagine). Got that straight? Good, ‘cause this is where it gets exciting. Much like Reddin's sense of humor, his dramatic structure leaves you not knowing what to expect, which is a delightful ride. I'm not going to spoil the ending, but I'll say this: you won't see it coming. The final twist elicited responses of gasps from the entire audience.

James Bocock and Kevin Fennessy in "Almost Blue." (Courtesy, Theatre on Fire)

James Bocock and Kevin Fennessy in “Almost Blue.” (Courtesy, Theatre on Fire)

Strong performances are all around from the cast of four. Kevin Fennesy’s dry portrayal of the erotica-composing neighbor is perfect, his entire characterization lulls you into thinking he’s not the character to pay attention to, until he occasionally lands a particularly off the wall retort that leaves the audience roaring. Erin Brehm is also amazing as Liz, playing her damsel in distress character with so much moxie that you know she is going to be just fine. James Bocock plays Phil, our would-be-hero with anger and strength, as well as pain and sorrow. Finally, Adam Siladi plays a villain that you almost want to like. Brett Marks, the first Theatre on Fire director other than Darren Evans, has coaxed great performances from all, orchestrating a production that is full of both action and words and nothing is exactly as it seems.

The sets, lights, and costumes create a crappy room in a rooming house that you really don’t want to stay in very long. (For the purpose of this play, that’s a good thing.) I was especially entranced by Emily McCourt’s lighting design that recreated the film noir style, although I will admit to getting very restless during the many, long blackouts. Eric Propp’s thoughtful costume design blended seamlessly into the characterizations the ensemble had developed. The gritty set by Luke Sutherland uses the space of the Charlestown Working Theatre brilliantly, incorporating a brick column into the set, in addition to making the room seem so gross. Sometimes gross is good, in the case of Theatre on Fire’s “Almost Blue,” very good indeed.

Robin Allen LaPlante is a local arts administrator who is skilled in the mystical arts of social media, ballet, and arts marketing. When not writing, she is baking delicious goodies, camping with her family, or playing with the crazy theater-makers at New Exhibition Room.