Vice Girl Confidential

nytheatre.com review by Danny Bowes
November 7, 2008

In her review of the original 2006 FringeNYC Festival production of Todd Michael's Vice Girl Confidential, nytheatre.com's Lisa Ferber summed the show up as "smart, laugh-inducing, and perfect." The only problem with applying that same assessment to the current production, running at Under St. Marks, is one of understatement. I literally laughed so hard that I missed whole parts of scenes. Michael's understanding of—and love for—classic film noir melodrama, along with his razor-sharp comic writing, makes for a show that, at an hour and ten minutes, is just long enough to tie up the dizzy, classically convoluted plot without overstaying its sublime welcome.

Noir has been, for some time, a fashionable style for both filmmakers and theatre artists. Most focus on the great hair and costumes, the chiaroscuro lighting, and the barbed, florid dialogue. Vice Girl Confidential's greatest strength is in remembering the essential role melodrama played in shaping the classic works of the period. Michael's script and Walter J. Hoffman's taut, lightning-paced direction allow a very talented cast to shine: particular standouts include Thom Brown III's portrayal of District Attorney Walter Slade, a performance so operatic that he actually sings Michael's hilariously purple prose; Emily King Brown's turn as "Cokey Flo," a call girl who in times of stress indulges rather heavily in her namesake drug, and to great comic effect; but especially the author, who appears in drag of the highest fabulousness as notorious madam Stella Fontaine. This is not drag for a cheap joke, this is drag because to imagine such a character as played in any other manner by any other actor would be impossible. Even Michael's tiniest bit of business as Stella shines.

This is not to disrespect the performances of Zach Lombardo, Lawrence Lesher, Matthew F. Garner, Jessica Luck, Courtney Cook, and Jeff Auer: they are all excellent, and Lombardo, Garner, and Luck all pull double duty with such flair that it almost requires a glance at the program to see that their parts are being played by the same actor. Lombardo's narrator, who sets the scene in perfect deadpan '50s-voice-of-morality style, contrasts with his psychopathic henchman Trigger Martin, prowling the stage with hunchbacked menace. Garner, as both a spectacularly dumb and doomed mug and the oiliest of oily mob lawyers, impresses just as much with his versatility. Luck and Cook as, respectively, wide-eyed small-town naïf and jaded, over-the-hill call-girl sisters give fine comic performances that perfectly recall their cinematic stereotypes. Lesher's straight-arrow police commissioner is an entertaining counterpoint to the District Attorney's arias, and finally Auer's vice kingpin Duke Craigie is equally reminiscent of the slightly less sophisticated gangsters of the noir period as well as more recent avatars of the underworld as seen in Martin Scorsese pictures and the more comic vignettes on The Sopranos.

The biggest problem with trying to capture the essence of such a fantastically entertaining piece of theatre in a review is coming up with more to say than just "Go see this. Now. Go twice. Bring everyone you know. Try to resist the urge to hug the actors afterwards. Unless they're into it, then go ahead." To hell with impartiality and critical remove, I say all that and follow it up with the sincere claim that I have spent few more enjoyable evenings at the theatre than at Vice Girl Confidential. This is a treat not to be missed.

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