A lone figure stepped into a pool of light as sultry film noir music played. A private eye, a vindictive criminal, and an eccentric cast of characters caught in a web of crime delivered laughs and a surprise ending at Falls Church High School in their production of “No Crime Like the Present.”
The show, a farce of the film noir “whodunits” of the late 1940s and 50s, was written by Bill Gleason. Melodrama features prominently as part of the show’s purpose – to poke fun at the stereotypical black-and-white film noirs and lighten the mood with slapstick humor and a ridiculous ending that no one saw coming.
The publicity team spared no expense in creatively promoting a rarely-heard-of show. Backed up by a hard-working and talented tech crew, the cast played through the comical mystique of the show with a range of emotions. In a show where over-acting is key, the majority of cast members amped up the drama and were rewarded with laughter. Although mysterious music at specific moments was effective in the show, some actors had difficulty being heard over it. The players worked well together, combining for pleasing comedic timing and attention-grabbing scenes.
Earning both the audience’s laughter and dislike, Melanie Reuter played Cassandra Dumont, the murder victim, as the character everyone loved to hate. Reuter skillfully strung the other characters along and served as the catalyst for the story. Brennan Jones, playing the heartbroken, self-serving number-one suspect Luther Preston, delivered his lines with tasteful melodrama while pulling the wool over the eyes of his fellow characters. Determined to reveal the truth of the crime, private eye Mavis Davis (Betsy Ryan) was witty and used her stage presence to make it clear that, no matter how many rocks she had to look under, she would not be deterred.
Adding more twists to the plot with his sleazy corruption was Mayor Everett Nelson (Matt Nordan). With perfect deadpan comedic timing, Nordan played the stereotype of a crooked, slimy politician to a T. Boris Mewborn’s ambling physicality was notable in his portrayal of ‘No Slack’ Slack – a tough-guy policeman – and he skillfully hit upon puns while creating funny moments. Equally as entertaining was Katie Davidson as the wailing consumer reporter Jennie Abbot, whose facial expressions and sharp character voice added to her hilarity.
Although lines were occasionally hard to hear when actors sometimes rushed through the audience’s laughter, actors projected well and the ensemble supported each other well. Mewborn’s portrayal of Slack’s lazy affections for Ryan’s Davis was unique and interesting, and well-suited to the character’s relationship with her as a friendly competition to see who could solve the crime first. Low energy from a few performers let some moments sag, but the general effect was good and the shocking ending was done with the full-force of the ensemble’s melodrama.
Facing the challenge of numerous lighting cues which recreated the atmosphere of a film-noir production while setting appropriate moods for individual scenes, the lighting designer rose to the task admirably. The lighting crew created the shadowy world of the whodunit with well-placed and executed effects. The set was well-planned and fitting for every action throughout the show. The running crew, suffering only one slightly problematic scene change, was swift and well-coordinated.
Bringing a little-known show out of obscurity, Falls Church revived a special version of the dark film noir world and lit up the stage last weekend. They showed that, while crime may not pay, it can be thoroughly entertaining.
Mariah Ligas is a student at Freedom High School and a member of Cappies, the Critics and Awards Program for High School Theatre and Journalism.