Fourth Street Theatre
83 East Fourth St. between Bowery & Second Ave.
Wednesday - Sunday through March 8, $25-$45, 7:00 or 8:00
Stolen Chair, which specializes in creating unique theatrical experiences (The Man Who Laughs, Potion), does it again with the film noir parody Kill Me Like You Mean It, an existential exploration of the very nature of storytelling, keeping its existential tongue in its existential cheek as it mines through the familiar clichés of the rich American genre while also searching for the meaning of existence. Written by company co-artistic director Kiran Rikhye and directed by cofounder Jon Stancato, the show follows private investigator Ben Farrell (Nathan Darrow), a former cop who is hired by Murder Monthly magazine publisher Lydia Forsythe (Natalie Hegg) to find her star writer, Tommy Dickie (David Skeist), who is in the midst of a series of stories about private investigator Bob Darrell, whose cases predict what will happen next to Farrell in real life. However, Dickie doesn’t appear to be missing at all, as Farrell finds him at home, where his bombshell sister, Vivian Ballantine (Sarah Skeist), hires Farrell to investigate Forsythe. “Truth is stranger than fiction,” Tommy says, to which Farrell retorts, “No. Truth is fiction.” Soon Farrell is trying to prevent Forsythe and Dickie from publishing a story in which Darrell dies, thinking that will lead to his own death as well.
There’s plenty of playful pulp throughout Kill Me Like You Mean It, which features appropriately dark, moody lighting by David Bengali and a jazzy score by Sean Cronin. There are an additional two sets of seats on either side of the stage, like a jury deliberating on the action unfolding in front of them in a courtroom drama while also providing different angles that evoke noir compositions. Various props are stored underneath the higher of the two, most memorably a bathtub, used for a riotous send-up of a memorable scene from Otto Preminger’s Laura; set changes, most prominently an inventive use of moving doors, are made by a pair of mysterious men with flashlights. Darrow, who plays the Underwood bodyguard Edward Meechum on House of Cards, is wonderfully deadpan spitting out absurdist takes on noir dialogue, keeping a straight face as he gets into splendid rat-a-tat-tat conversations. Vivian: “I’d like you to feel safe. Go on and search me.” Farrell: “What do you think I’ll find?” Vivian: “What would you like to find?” Farrell: “What do you think I’d like to find?” Vivian: “I think you’d like to find whatever you’re looking for.” Farrell: “What would you like me to be looking for?” Vivian: “Why don’t you find it and find out.” Stancato adds such other fun touches as running jokes about cigarettes and lighters, face slapping, and hats. The boundaries between fiction, reality, and yet another level of fiction even extend to the program, which is a mock edition of Murder Monthly that comes complete with an installment of Tommy Dickie’s serial and some old-fashioned ads, one of which is for a whiskey that audience members are offered a sample of upon entering the theater. Also in the program is a list of suggested movies to check out, ranging from Chinatown, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, and L.A. Confidential to The Maltese Falcon, Double Indemnity, and D.O.A., prime viewing indeed. Be sure to arrive a little early to be serenaded by some noir-era crooning.