The leggy dame who has hired private investigator Ben Farrell wants him to find a missing person — Tommy Dickie, the chief writer for Murder Monthly, a crime magazine. But there are complications, as there always are in the kind of film noir detective stories that inspire Kiran Rikhye’s play “Kill Me Like You Mean It,” a stylish but silly production by Stolen Chair that is scheduled to run through March 8 at the Fourth Street Theater.
The most intriguing complication is that Tommy Dickie has been writing fictionalized versions of the private detective’s real-life murder cases — except that the murders have been occurring after Dickie has written about them.
This suggestion of the supernatural offered a promising twist to a show that seems to be a part of a mini-trend in New York theater — stage noir. This is the second play in New York in a month offering an updated theatrical take on a film genre from the 1940’s; the first was Film Chinois (A third play, Billy and Ray, which opened in October, focused on the behind-the-scenes collaboration between Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler that resulted in Double Indemnity, one of the most lauded of all film noir.) Like “Film Chinois,” “Kill Me Like You Mean It” features an air of mystery and menace; men in fedoras and trench coats carrying guns; two femme fatales.The six-member cast is efficient and effective; it’s a pleasure to see,Nathan Darrow as the private eye; he’s best-known as the FBI agent in House of Cards who has a menage-a-trois with Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright. The design team delivers atmospheric lighting, spot-on period costumes and mood-inducing sets. There’s even an original soundtrack by Sean Cronin.
In a note in the program, however, director Jon Stancato says he sees “Kill Me Like You Mean It” as reflecting not just film noir but also theater of the absurd, and his staging is intended to “marry the Absurd with the Noir.” The result is sometimes funny — whenever anybody offers Ben a cigarette, he puts it behind his ear, dislodging the one already there and throwing it onto the floor. It is more often just weird: the telephone rings eight times before he picks it up; one of the femme fatale slaps herself instead of Ben; there are chunks of deliberately odd repetitive dialogue, and lines hard to parse like “casting good before bad is no better than casting pigs before swine.” Much of the silliness seems like not especially clever or humorous outtakes from a Farrelly or Zucker Brothers movie rather than the more pointed clowning by Beckett or Ionesco. “Kill Me Like You Mean It” (as one can infer from the title) seems as much an homage to film noir spoofs as it is to film noir itself. As with any of these detective stories, the plot is convoluted and takes some effort to follow. If they don’t take the mystery seriously, why should we?
Stolen Chair at Fourth Street Theatre (83 East 4th Street)
Music by Sean Cronin
Lights by David Bengali
Set by Michael Minahan
Costumes by Angela Harner
Props & Graphic Design by Aviva Meyer
Fight Direction by Noah Schultz
Stage Management by Brooke Bell
Promotional Art by David Droxler & Kurt Huggins
Cast: Nathan Darrow*, Jon Froehlich*, Natalie Hegg*, David Skeist*, and Sarah Skeist with Raife Baker*
*Appearing courtesy of the Actors’ Equity Association.