Moving Violations

Say uncle: Uncle Peck (Tom Poole) and L'il Bit (Larissa Paige Kokernot) steer into uncertain country in Paula Vogel's How I Learned to Drive

Of course, this ain't film. Stage noir is an interesting project--imitating a form that depends so much on the screen's inherent synthesis of elements. Jeune Lune's production, though, embraces the conventions of the genre, making the more conspicuous noir details an indivisible part of the production. Everything from the costumes to the acting is literally done in black and white (except for three splashes of red--a tie, an apple, and, oh, some blood).

Typical film-noir music with its rolling bases and doom-thundering percussion has been replaced by swing, swing, swing. Whisper (Dominique Serrand) floats across the stage in a one-two-three waltz, while The Op (Robert Rosen) and Dinah the doomed dame (Sarah Agnew) link arms and two-step through the city. The amplified rustle of a salt shaker becomes another kind of score, as does the tapping of a spoon, or the ringing of a glass. A tick of a clock through a microphone becomes a tell-tale heart. It's cartoon noir, cute noir, and the effect is genuinely cool.

The play finishes with a Hamlet-esque body count--10 cast members, 10 corpses--though the arithmetic isn't as simple as it sounds. Neither is the plot. In true noir fashion, so many loose ends are left dangling they seem an essential part of the tapestry. The plot seems to turn every other moment, becoming so complicated so quickly that before long, we can only sit back and watch the pretty pictures.

It is difficult to feel the tension of a story that's changing so fast; stripped of suspense, the play begins to feel over-long in the second half. The audience deflates as we move past hour number two, though a limp second act is so common these days that it barely matters. Cue music, cue lights, cue an absurdly clever closing image, and all is forgotten. If only the folk in Poisonville had such short memories.

How I Learned to Drive runs through June 13 at the Loring Playhouse; call 332-1619. Red Harvest runs through June 21 at Theatre de la Jeune Lune; call 333-6200.

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