Photos by Carrie Leonard
Kill Me Like You Mean It by Kiran Rikhye is film noir meets Theater of the Absurd. Former police detective and rogue PI Ben Farrell goes to meet with a new client and rapidly falls into a world of plotting and counter-plotting, and soon even his life is at stake. Only, to audiences outside the world of the play, everything doesn't quite seem to line up.
Stolen Chair Theatre Company's play begins as a standard crime noir or detective drama, replete with private detectives, femme fatales and mysterious murders. Before long, however, we are caught in a loop of repeated, at times nonsensical dialogue and gestures, with a disjointedness that keeps you on your toes. Still, with only a few characters, the cast has managed to create a fully fleshed out world, amusing and disturbing all in one.
The play opens with Farrell responding to a call from a new client--Lydia Forsythe, editor of the crime fiction periodical Murder Monthly, who wants the detective to locate her most popular writer. That task turns out to be extremely simple, but Tommy Dickie, author of the renowned series "Kill Me Like You Mean It," is himself a mystery, as is the question of why the stories he writes have started coming true. When Dickie writes in this edition of Murder Monthly that his protagonist "Bob Darrell" is suddenly murdered, Farrell needs to find out how and why the tales are coming to life, before he becomes the next victim.
It's ultimately a rather short adventure, feeling more like one of the installments in a series you might read in Murder Monthly than a complete drama. A phenomenal score by Sean Cronin instantly transports you into the era and the fantasy world, where the violent impulses and open scheming of Dickie's compatriots is entertaining and refreshing rather than shocking.
Nathan Darrow as Farrell fulfills every trope of the suave private eye, from his rivalry with the police Detective Jones (Jon Froehlich) to his charged banter with the wealthy and beautiful Vivian Ballantine (Sarah Skeist), but is still a dynamic character whose responses can surprise you. The rest of the characters are less well developed, serving the style of the play rather than creating deeper and more complex opponents for Farrell. Ruthless editor Lydia (Natalie Hegg) and eccentric, self-assured author Tommy (David Skeist) are, however, a spine-tingling team as they plot against the good detective in the name of their art.
The realistic set of Kill Me Like You Mean It is perhaps too elaborate, transforming fully into Farrell's and Lydia's offices as well as Tommy's bathroom and Vivian's parlor but slowing down the action with each new location--though having the changes performed by fully suited-up detectives is a nice touch. The creative team of this play seems committed to recreating the sense of film noir, complete with bringing some of the audience onstage to fully experience the fly-on-the-wall effect within these close encounters. It's a great view, keeping you close to Farrell's world while still safe from the jarring surrealism and death threats of his daily life.
Kill Me Like You Mean It is a fascinating glimpse into the sort of murder mystery Albert Camus might write. It's both a thrilling story and an intellectual exercise, dressed in the classic trappings of film noir.
Does Private Detective Ben Farrell make it out of the show alive? Who is really out to get him? To find out, catch Kill Me Like You Mean It at the Fourth Street Theatre through March 8. And for the best theater tickets at the best price, check CHARGED!