Betsy Leach Staff Writer
Dogged detectives, dangerous dames, and inescapable amounts of crime and corruption are the hallmarks of film noir. Rooted in post-WWII America, the mix of moody atmosphere and a sense of inevitable corruption hit home for a generation that had seen some of the worst humanity had to offer. As time went on, people were more concerned with escaping this dark reality than reliving it, and tastes soon turned to the light-hearted. But every so often, noir returns, ready to engulf its audience. And Path of Darkness, a Div III by Ben Gurin (’10), carried on that tradition in the best of ways, mixing the traditions of film with the medium of theater.
Upon entering the theater, one passed a wall of posters for film noir films, a marquee announcing the show (displays designed by dramaturg Ian Chace, ’12), and a ticket-taker dressed in vintage costume. And each performance was preceded by a series of pre-show cartoons and movie trailers, projected on a sheet hanging from the ceiling. But soon the sheet came down, and the main attraction began.
The story features Detective Marla Hunters (Kahlila Muller, ‘14), one of New York’s finest. Delivering her notes on a case to her dictation machine, as well as the audience, she narrates the tale of Vera Lester, a woman trying to outrun her past and her criminal husband Allen Brodsky (Asa Needle, ’14) by working at a diner owned by Frankie Spade (Bria Sutherland, ’12), and getting engaged to a new beau, George Harvey (Eric O’Neill, ’11). Unfortunately, these new dreams are deferred by the discovery of her erstwhile husband’s dead body in a hotel room, and the in-depth investigation that follows. I won’t give away too much of the play’s mystery-driven plot, but it contained the many hallmarks of classic film noir, including all the troubled dames and hardboiled dialogue one would hope to have.
This reliance on recollection and flashback to tell the story was helped greatly by the play’s masterful direction and blocking, courtesy of director Vipassana Greene (’12), which allowed the scenes to play out as Marla dictates them, justifying the use of a voiceover, a popular trope in film noir, for the stage production. This, in turn, was aided by set designer Skye Murie (’12), who created a wonderfully mobile world for the characters to inhabit, as well as lighting designer Sam Whitney (’11), whose careful design allowed for these scenes to pop in and out of existence on the otherwise darkened stage.
From impeccable set design, magnificently choreographed blocking, and fascinating dialogue, every aspect of the production harmonized seamlessly to bring the aura of film noir to the stage. Path of Darkness was a triumph, and truly epitomizes how immersive and awe-inspiring theater can be when all its elements work together.