Take THAT, ‘Red Herring,’ and some of THAT, too

Artists Rep goes Noir for the comedy

Joshua Weinstein, Val Landrum and Leif Norby in "Red Herring"/Owen Carey

Joshua Weinstein, Val Landrum and Leif Norby in “Red Herring”/Owen Carey

Sometimes, theater is just for fun, isn’t it? Michael Hollinger’s “Red Herring” seems to be a case in point, a sharp-witted and quick-paced little noir send-up, in which your laughter at one bit of wordplay may well make it impossible to hear the next even funnier bit.

But isn’t it really about prosecutorial overreach and the Red Scare? You could make the case, I suppose, Sister, but then I’d have to give you a ticket for Excessive Seriousness in a Comedy Zone. Still, fans of Sen. Ted Cruz, the Texas Tea Party darling who has claimed that several members of the faculty at Harvard Law School when he was a student there were card-carrying Communists  (without offering one iota of proof, I must point out in the interest of fairness), might not think it’s all that funny, that it’s part of a liberal media plot to… oh, I don’t know what, exactly. Listen, Buster, if you’re going to the theater to find support for Joseph McCarthy, you’re a bigger sap than I am.

Where was I? Oh yeah, Artists Repertory Theatre, of course, for its production of “Red Herring.” Some Evil Force (I’m not accusing Sen. Cruz, seriously I’m not) had contrived to injure one of the actors on opening weekend, just to close it down (OK, I made that part up), and though Artists Rep tried to keep me from knowing who had been knocked around, hey, I’m a trained investigative journalist! And I have Facebook! So I know exactly who it was and the icing and elevating he’d needed to do to get back on the stage this week. Take that, Artists Rep! And that! I’m a very bad man.

I saw no limping around the stage on Thursday, mind you, though director Christopher Liam Moore (who must be a card-carrying of something or other—the Directors Guild?) forced the actors to climb around on parts of Richard L. Hay’s cool set. I did see some actors having a good time and an audience happily anticipating the next bit of absurdity.

Vana O'Brien, Amy Newman and Joshua Weinstein in "Red Herring"/Owen Carey

Vana O’Brien, Amy Newman and Joshua Weinstein in “Red Herring”/Owen Carey

It would be silly of me to recount the plot in much detail. Let’s just say it has three interlocking love stories, and the ways they interlock are part of the fun. The couples include an FBI agent (Leif Norby) and a detective (Val Landrum), who handle most of the hard-bitten crime dialogue; the two young lovers Lynn McCarthy (Amy Newman) and James (Joshua J. Weinstein), one the daughter of the aforementioned Sen. McCarthy and the other a… Commie spy (of course!); and Mrs. Kravitz (Vana O’Brien) and Andrei (Michael Mendelson), who have a weakness for kippers and a body on their hands.

Hollinger stirs these ingredients wildly for the plot and supplies tasty jokes to take advantage of all that stirring. The actors get to play their stereotypes just about as broadly as they want without fearing the consequences, though honestly, the women get the funniest lines and chances to double-take, especially Landrum’s hard-boiled detective and Newman’s maybe-not-so-innocent ingenue, and they slap these opportunities around and leave them blubbering for… kippers? I don’t know.

Hey, Mr. Fancypants Critic, spill the beans. Can the spawn of Joseph McCarthy make a separate peace with the enemy? Can a simple law man find room in his heart for a little ethical relativism? Is love gonna conquer all? Seriously?


Marty Hughley talked to director Christopher Liam Moore for a preview of the show.

Jonathan Frochtzwajg of Portland Monthly’s Culturephile found the proceedings rather tired: “‘Red Herring”s humor consists of either tired, ball-and-chain-type jokes about marriage or gratingly exaggerated physical humor.”

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