Freshwater Trio
Two members of Borealis String Quartet

David AdamsSupernatural Noir: A 21st Century Operetta
12 & 13 August, 2010 @ 8:00pm • Vancouver East Cultural Centre

Performers Joe Trio, William Barton, Matt Palmer, Melanie Adams, David Adams, Laura DiCicco

Reviewer Stephanie Dodd

I once saw a movie starring two excellent actors, both known for consistently good films. That particular movie, however, was a disaster, and I wondered how these actors had come to be involved with it. Reading about it later, I learned that the actress, upon seeing the final cut for the first time at a preview, burst into tears. I imagine that the performers in Fugue Theatre’s Supernatural Noir are experiencing similar emotions.

Audiences are given the warning that this performance is a concert version work in progress and should be viewed more as a staged reading than a finished product. Duly noted, but this work in progress has a long way to progress.

Billed as a 21st Century Operetta and a “dark, but comic murder mystery,” Supernatural Noir, written by Kico Gonzales-Risso, opens with promise. We are introduced to Slim Diggins, a psychic detective played by the charming Matt Palmer, who gamely tries to create the proverbial silk purse from a sow’s ear. Slim’s office is lucky enough to be haunted by an excellent trio of ghost musicians who join him on stage, and a ghost didgeridoo player, who spends the show hidden behind a screen of venetian blinds.

The musicians are easily the best part of this show. The ghost trio, played by Joe Trio (Charles Inkman on cello, Allen Stiles on piano, and Cameron Wilson – also the musical director – on violin) provides a jazzy, moody, witty backdrop for the performance. The ghosts provide commentary and occasionally sing along. In doing so, they provide almost all of the show’s laughs.

William Barton, as the phantom didgeridoo player, is entirely wasted in this production and was apparently included to keep with MusicFest’s Australia theme. You can sometimes hear him, playing his heart out behind his screen and making some very cool sounds from back there, but his role in the show is unclear and it feels like he was an afterthought, which is unfortunate.

After the introduction, the show rapidly deteriorates. Slim is joined by snarky widow Margo McGillen (Melanie Adams), trampy reporter Veronica Bouvet (Laura DiCicco), and slimy government media relations guy Corbett MacPhee (David Adams), in a plot that somehow manages to be both cliched and confusing. There is an attempt to give an eco-message that isn’t entirely successful and a love story that isn’t remotely believable.

The entire show is sung, but there are no actual songs, and one wonders whether normal speech might have been a better choice. Someone in charge likes the effect of multiple people singing different things at the same time, and likes it a lot, and while I have seen that done well in the past, here it resulted in large chunks of incomprehensibility where the singers drowned each other out.

Watching Supernatural Noir, I got the feeling that there was talent on that stage, but despite valiant attempts by the cast to pull this out of the mud, they were far too covered in it to shine.

© 2010 Stephanie Dodd