LCP’s ‘red herring’ doesn’t have to fish for laughs
By MARILYN JOZWIK
Published Oct. 8, 2018
Watching Lake Country Playhouse’s “Red Herring” is a little like seeing an episode of “Dragnet” from the 1950s, combined with a “Seinfeld” episode. You’ve got the hard-boiled cops and a murder plus the intrigue of the McCarthy era, using quirky characters in hilarious situations saying the darndest things.
The result is a delightful couple hours at the theater, thanks to Michael Hollinger’s comedy and the cast’s fine work with it.
Rebecca Schilling is production director for the show, while Tarolyn Fulkerson is assistant director.
This six ensemble cast members play multiple parts -- and represent three romances. Through the use of wigs, costuming and characterization they pull off all the roles nicely.
The show consists of a couple dozen snappy scenes, set mainly on a dock in New England in 1952 where a body has been found. Maggie (Cayla Anderson), a tough Boston detective, and her beau, G-man Frank (John Reilly), have reluctantly agreed to tie the knot before embarking on the case.
At the same time, Lynn (Stephanie Nilsen), the daughter of Joseph McCarthy (yes, that Joseph McCarthy, who didn’t actually marry until 1954 and had an adopted daughter named Tierney) is engaged to a nuclear scientist working as a Russian spy – he feels the world is better off if enemies share the same weapons – named James (Dustin Nolan). Their scene opens with the pair watching the McCarthy trial on TV, in Wisconsin.
The third couple is dockside landlady Mrs. Kravitz (Rebecca Richards) and her lover, Russian operative Andrei (Kelly Vance).
The three couples intersect as James entrusts Lynn with a dangerous assignment on the New England dock, where the body was found, and near Mrs. Kravitz’s rooming house, where the deceased lived.
The six main characters are constantly meeting up – before they know their connections -- contrasting and comparing their lives. Lynn and Maggie meet up looking for wedding dresses in the same shop, Mrs. Kravitz meets Frank as he’s investigating the murder, Lynn talks to a despondent Frank on the dock, Maggie runs into Andrei in a bar and Lynn and Andrei end up at the same church confessional in a hilarious scene.
All the while, the audience feels in a time warp back to the film noir movies of the ’50s with the fast-talking gumshoes and international intrigue, but with some large doses of wit and humor. All sorts of scenes evoke that era, such as Maggie’s typical film noir narration as she describes a man “wearin’ a smile like it was some sort of secret weapon,” or says, “We go together like a pair of bum shoes.”
Most of the short scenes end with a zinger, a fun pun, or remark that keeps audiences on their toes. After finding the body on the dock, Detective Maggie remarks, “I need an autopsy”; her colleague responds, “You look fine to me.” There’s a fun, recurring bit with Velveeta cheese and how it’s not really cheese.
From the start, I loved Anderson’s unflappable, hard-boiled Maggie. Her Boston accent makes her sound even tougher, her lines come out rapid fire, assured. She makes ordinary lines like, “You’re a Georgia peach” slip out naturally. Her scene with Vance’s Andrei in a bar just makes her even more endearing. When Maggie asks, “Why are you drinking vodka with a spoon?” he replies, “Because it drips on me when I use a fork.” The scene ends with Andrei giving some advice on love and marriage that involves a leaky dory. Nicely done.
This whole cast really works well together. Another wonderful scene has Richards playing Lynn’s mom discussing with Nilsen’s Lynn something her fiancé wants her to do that she doesn’t want to. The timing is so important and both Richards and Nilsen use the audience laughter and pauses to great effect.
Richards, who keeps racking up wonderful performances, gives not one or two but three stellar characterizations here. Besides Lynn’s mom, she plays the wise-cracking landlady with the hots for the Russian agent, as well as the bridal shop clerk, giving all a distinctive flair with a real feel for comedy.
Nilsen, in her LCP debut (and hopefully not her last area performance) plays Lynn as not so much a ditzy blonde but more of a bemused blonde, which makes her so much fun to watch.
The guys also fare well, especially Vance, who takes on the Russian Andrei. At one point, he pretends to be mute – so as to not reveal his accent – with a silly set of hand gestures that are funny at the start, but the bit maybe goes on too long. He does a nice job with the bridal shop owner’s toady husband, and Frank’s FBI boss.
Reilly takes a while to get into his agent Frank role, but soon endears with his dedication. He does well as the priest with penitents on either side of him.
Nolan’s James is high octane, the physicist on a dangerous mission. There are lots of opportunities for humor as Lynn finds it hard to tell her mom he’s Jewish, ending up saying he’s a Quaker. Nolan’s nervous, nerdy characterization of James could have been turned down a notch, but his sometimes clueless coroner character is great fun working with Maggie.
Bob Hurd has created a handsome dock setting complete with a billboard for kippers and a commercial between scenes urging listeners to “put a fish in your pocket and a smile on your face.” The many scenes mean lots of prop changes that are mostly handled efficiently.
If you go
Who: Lake Country Playhouse
What: “Red Herring”
When: Through Oct. 21
Where: Lake Country Playhouse, 221 E. Capitol Drive, Hartland