A thriller set in the (apparently) high stakes world of real estate, there is something pleasantly old-fashioned about this hard-boiled, Hammett-style noir in which nothing is quite as it seems and no-one can be trusted.
Terrifically acted, it is an insubstantial but entertaining piece of new writing from Wesley Moore, whose play A Reckoning starring Jonathan Pryce had its world premiere at the Soho Theatre three years ago.
Opening in an Italian restaurant on Halloween, we are introduced to the two main characters, Susan (Mindy Crist), a high-flying banker, and Matt (Adam Rothenberg), a salesman from the Mid-West who is desperately trying to close a deal on a real estate project with her. They are joined at the table by Edgar Briller, apparently Matt’s business partner, disguised from the audience by having his back to us. Suddenly, Briller begins to choke to death, and is then finished off by a man in a Halloween mask with a gun.
However, when subsequently Susan begins an affair with Matt, she comes under the suspicion of the company’s internal compliance department, and an officious employee named Ted Ferguson (Josh Stamberg). Thus the plot is launched into a thriller which explores the lengths people will go to to get what they want.
I am a huge fan of noir and anything that involves a femme fatale. Apparently the role of Susan was originally to be gifted to Marisa Tomei for this Edinburgh run. Tomei would, of course, have been a huge draw. However, I am not sure if her range, normally limited to slightly ditsy Brooklyn women, could stretch as far as playing this kind of role. Instead, her lesser known but more than talented replacement, Crist, a veteran of TV dramas such as Six Feet Under, executes the requirements of a manipulative and dangerous sex-siren with considerable aplomb. Rothenberg, an up-and-coming Hollywood actor, convinces as the pushy salesman with an agenda, and the moody, handsome Stamberg is excellent as the overly-inquisitive company investigator.
Ultimately, there is not much to this play – no lessons are learned, or required to be learned in a genre which is always an exploration of people’s darkest motives. That said, there is great control over the action, which indicates a strong writing capability from Moore and demonstrates some tight directing skill from Amy Glazer. The only trouble is that this kind of thing has been done much better before, and anyone who is familiar with classic film noir may feel short changed by a pretender, rather than a master, of the genre.
Nevertheless, as a diverting piece of entertainment, which allows the audience to unwind for an hour, I recommend it. Just don’t expect too many twists and turns, as this rather resembles an episode of Dallas than The Asphalt Jungle. Perhaps this is because the play asks too much of us to really believe that property developers are the new criminal class. Donald Trump’s hairpiece aside, there is not too much strictly criminal about their real-life activities, and without the underworld edge that, say, The Sopranos has, this appears to be rather making a skyscraper out of a bungalow, a credibility gap too far for the writer to properly bridge.