NOIR (GDP): Theater fatale gets off the beaten path

Sarah Robinson  in GDP Productions' NOIR, Photo Credit: James Jackson (
Sarah Robinson in GDP Productions’ NOIR, Photo Credit: James Jackson (

Little known theater company, GDP Productions, takes a shot at classic crime cinema with NOIR. Played in the shadowy, speakeasy-like back bar of R Bar at 2222 Walnut Street, this $15 show presents short work by five unknown Philly playwrights. Some plays offer an homage to the noir genre, others blend it with modern tropes to create weird artistic syntheses. The entire collection is directed by James Kiesel.

Oliver Donahue’s Ronin presents a quick visual smorgasbord. The piece depicts a brief series of events told backwards, starting with a pair of corpses and a man with a sword, then working its way to the start again. Donahue has engineered his play so that each short scene features a satisfying, and at times funny, revelation; it is fraught with backwards cliff-hangers, and is mostly told physically, like a comic strip in motion.

Shoshanna Ruth’s Red Leather Redheads, a snappy parody of Cold War-era paranoia, plays like a clever, female-cast Dr. Strangelove. Three women, two of them previous lovers, fight over a key and a box whose contents they do not understand. In direct contrast, One Way Ticket to Mexico by Annie Such is an uncomfortably funny torture-drama seemingly set in present day Philadelphia.

Hush, written by and co-starring director James Kiesel, is a very short play composed of a single tango. Tantalizingly choreographed by Melissa Forgione, this dialogueless piece repeats the themes of love and betrayal which are ever-present throughout the night, and reinforces the heady atmosphere of the back bar, and the noir genre.

Not every show shines, nor every actor. There is a campiness which runs through all of these works, upholding a certain lightness to the night’s drama. The opening play, Cubby Altobelli’s Tying Up Loose Ends, falls into the trap of taking itself a bit too seriously. While the plotting is unpredictable, most of the lines fall flat.

GDP is probably as fringe as fringe gets. They’ve produced 13 shows since July 2011. Their resume consists mainly of cabarets and collections of shorts, like NOIR. Still, that’s six or seven shows per year, which for the most part have passed unremarked-upon by Philly’s reviewers. GDP claims to make “quick, twisted, cool, cheap” theater. With themes ranging from history to violence and from cabaret to homage, it is not a stretch to say that this is how Ed Wood would have made theater. Another irresistible comparison is with Philly’s SoLow Fest, which offers support to artists, helping them to self-produce in borrowed or free spaces, creating theater with relatively little risk.

As a result, NOIR is not recommended to people who want finished, polished theater. Those interested in something risky and off the beaten path, and in giving chances to underserved young playwrights, would likely find a lot to enjoy about this show. August 7-11, 2013.

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