THEATER NOIR: STYLE VS. SUBTEXT
Supreme command of stagecraft is evident in every aspect of Somerled Charitable Foundation’s production of Jim Henry’s initially riveting but ultimately unsatisfying new play, the noirish psychological thriller 7th Monarch. In general, the first act has so much style and focus that one becomes hopeful for the second act to transcend mere genre. Sadly, there is no subtext to 7th Monarch, no deep, underlying themes, no double meanings, no ambiguity. It is straightforward, which helps make it dynamic and entertaining, but which in the end relegates it to the shallow depths of the genre piece.
Miriam Hemmerick (a captivating Gretchen Hall), is a 33 year-old super-genius with the mentality of an adolescent, a sort-of idiot savant who can recall every detail of everything she’s ever read, as well as connect these in meaningful ways, yet she is terrified of certain numbers to the point of hysteria. Miriam lives alone in her parents’ Indiana house, subsisting on a diet of junk food and riding around on a little girl’s bicycle wearing a toy space helmet. But Miriam has also been cashing her missing parents’ Social Security checks, causing SSA criminal investigator Raina Briar (Leslie Hendrix) to arrive at Miriam’s house, where Raina stumbles upon clues that suggest more sinister misdeeds – a possible parricide in fact – with the guileless but disturbed Miriam as the likely suspect.
Ms. Hendrix gives an excellent, multilayered performance as Raina, a woman with a no-nonsense professional exterior but a deeply compassionate and maternal essence, whose concern for Miriam is fueled by tragic events in her own past. Michael Cullen is powerful as Leo Garnes, the aging homicide detective who, two weeks from retirement, takes on the Hemmerick case.
Matthew Humphreys is sympathetic as Grey Collins, the well-intentioned but inexperienced ex-hippie-turned-public defender. He’s been assigned to the case as Miriam’s attorney, and though not a great lawyer he tries to do his best to help her. Finally, Michael Rupert turns in a smart and nimble performance as Kenneth Sharpe, the prosecutor, who also happens to be running for public office. Mr. Rupert expertly brings out both his character’s charismatic and repulsive qualities, as Sharpe tries to use the Hemmerick case to bolster his political campaign.
If elements of character and story sound typical of the psychological thriller genre, that’s because they are. But so skilled is Mr. Henry’s dialogue and so deft and crisp Scott C. Embler’s direction – with a cleverly evocative use of set (Shoko Kambara), sound (David Pinkard), lighting (D.M. Wood) and costumes (David Withrow) – that one becomes hopeful for the play to finally dig deeper than would a paint-by-numbers mystery thriller.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t. As with so many thrillers, the answers revealed in the second act of 7th Monarch are unsatisfying compared to the questions raised in the first. Loose ends of the plot are tied up a little too neatly. And the “psychological” revelations at the end are trite and do not ring true. With such a talented crew on board, the true mystery resides in the dramaturgy.
photos by Carol Rosegg
The Acorn Theater in New York City (New York Theater)
scheduled to end on September 9, 2012
for tickets, visit www.7thMonarch.com