BWW Review: THE FAKUS: A NOIR at BCA
The Fakus: A Noir
Written by Joe Byers, Directed by Joe Antoun, Set Design by Ron DeMarco, Costume Design by Richelle Devereaux-Murray, Lighting Design by John Cuff, Sound Design by Rick Brenner; Props Master, Rebecca David; Stage Manager, Michele Teevan; Assistant Stage Managers, Lauren Contard and Sean Swords
Performances through October 6 by Centastage at Plaza Theatre, The Boston Center for the Arts, 539 Tremont Street, Boston, MA; Box Office 617-933-8600 or www.bostontheatrescene.com
The Plaza Theatre at the Boston Center for the Arts is the ideal venue for Centastage's atmospheric world premiere of The Fakus: A Noir by Joe Byers. The theatre's three-quarter thrust configuration, with a seating capacity of 142, allows the audience to enfold the stage and feel the magnetism of the crafty trio of characters who seem to have stepped out of the silver screen. The small, dark space is tailor-made for the mysterious story involving $100,000, visions of the Virgin Mary, and questions about who can be trusted. Dark shadows and Red Herrings abound.
The dramatic impact of the work of the designers cannot be overlooked in the gestalt of The Fakus. Set in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in late September, 1957, the sights and sounds of the locale and the era contribute heavily to our buy-in. Lighting Designer John Cuff keeps things dim and shadowy to emphasize the secrecy. Rick Brenner overlays the sounds of the ocean and an extended episode of thunder and rain, as well as period music entre scenes. Paul Melendy and Craig Mathers dress in 50s-style suits and wear fedoras jauntily tilted over one eye. Richelle Devereaux-Murray's costume designs for Bobbie Steinbach combine features of Italian widow and thinking outside the box.
With the visual and aural components in place, Director Joe Antoun takes over to manipulate our instincts. Byers' script is filled with frequent shifts of loyalty between the characters and misdirection to keep us guessing, and Antoun highlights these moments. Sometimes he slows the pace and sometimes he has his actors erupt excitedly or behave in an uncharacteristic manner, but it feels like we are the big fish that he must coax into the boat by alternately letting out and reeling in the line. Perhaps what is most remarkable is that we are aware that this is going on and we allow it to happen. It is a delicious feeling!
In reviewing The Fakus: A Noir, I am purposely staying away from giving details of the story because anything I say could qualify as spoiler fodder. However, to shed a little light, I will share with you the playwright's definition of the fictitious word Fakus: "the personal devil who follows each one of us throughout our lives, seeking to undo us and carry us off." Steinbach plays Mrs. Joseph Patrick Paul Costello, a good Irish Catholic who sees visions of the Virgin Mary and seems to think she can ward off demons by doing good works. She plans to donate $100,000 to build a school in the Congo in memory of her daughter, but she needs a couple of good Catholics to take the money to a priest who is shipping out of New York to Africa.
That's where Leland Novak (Melendy) and Harry Galvin (Mathers) come in. Two strangers who met by chance and hit it off after Mass one morning, the men agree to help the eccentric old woman as a good Christian act and oh, by the way, there'll be a $1000 payoff for each of them that could go a long way in helping them deal with the rough spots in their lives. The fly in the ointment is that Mrs. Costello wants them to give her a $10,000 bond against the one hundred grand that they'll be transporting for her. What they have to do to get the money and how they spend their time together awaiting its arrival is a crucial part of the story. All I'm going to say is that Leland and Harry learn things about each other that are surprising.
Melendy and Mathers really click, especially in the way they show their characters gradually opening up and exploring the new relationship. While sharing a hotel room and waiting out the lengthy rainstorm, some of the activities they engage in to pass the time are homoerotic. The actors convey a sense of anticipation and readiness to jump into the unknown, stringing us along for the ride. They both capture the persona and the tone of voice of the noir tough guy, and they capably soften when they are tapping into the "good Catholic" side of their characters.
Mrs. Costello has a heavily bandaged ankle and walks with a cane, but she is still a force of nature brought to life by Steinbach. She takes command of every scene, making it clear that this shrewd little old lady is calling the shots even when the men who tower over her consider a double-cross. As wacky or helpless as she may appear at times, her eyes betray her steely resolve and it's a safe bet that her fakus doesn't stand a chance.
Trust, secrets, betrayal, money, greed, mystery, and, believe it or not, love are among the themes that Byers weaves into this original story, so there really is something for everyone. If you can't decide whether to take in a movie or a play this weekend, The Fakus: A Noir will satisfy both the cinephile and the theatre lover in you. Trust me.