What brought byteclay.com the most pleasure while watching the preview of “Pulp” Thursday at the Phoenix Theatre, was trying to figure out which genre was being spoofed at any given time—that, and watching the delightful comic performances of the show’s versatile ensemble.
Playwright Joseph Zettelmaier’s hommage to various forms of literature and classic films is a National New Play Network premiere and is playing on the Livia and Steve Russell Stage through March 6.
The story is set in Los Angeles during the 1930s. It revolves around morose Frank Ellery (Eric J. Olson). He’s a has-been private investigator who spends his days drinking and lounging about his seedy office until a sultry Desiree St. Clair (Angela R. Plank), a pulp fiction writer, shows up and convinces him to take a most intriguing case. It turns out that her literary agent has been savagely murdered and she along with three other pulp fiction writers he represented, are the suspects. From the time he signs on until the conclusion of Zettelmaier’s engaging whodunit, Ellery is drawn into the secret lives of each of the suspects and discovers, predictably, that everything is not what it seems.
Phoenix producing director Bryan Fonseca guided his cast members with a sure hand, ensuring that they accurately captured the mannerisms, slang and style of the period—all conveyed with a tongue-in-cheek, straight-faced, sincerity.
Phoenix regular Olson looked and sounded the part of the world weary, tough talking Bogey-like, Ellery. Plank, as seductive romantic writer Desiree St. Clair was an alluring composite of Gene Tierney, Ida Lupino and Lauren Bacall. Coomer shined as eccentric science fiction writer Bradley Rayburn and Hosp was outrageous as the effete, quirky adventure writer, Walter Cranston-Smith, who cavorts about, disguised as a hero. Ian Cruz was pitch perfect as volatile horror writer R.A. Lyncroft.
In his script, Zettelmaier has nicely weaved together all the various genres represented and has written amusing dialogue that is guaranteed to bring chuckles. And of course, the interesting plot has plenty of twists and turns. There are, however, some moments, that tend to drag on a bit—particularly during the scenes between Ellery and St. Clair, that take place in his office. Otherwise, things move along at a quick pace and in the long run, there is enough action and visual surprises to hold one’s attention.
Notably outstanding in this production, and one of the most complicated seen by this reviewer during many years of covering the Phoenix—is Bernie Killian’s tremendous set design. It consists of a series of rooms representing various locations that are built onto a revolving unit built into the stage.
Jeffery Martin’s well executed lighting design beautifully captures the moodiness, film noir shadows and Edward Hopper-like aura of the play’s period.
Phoenix Theatre playwright in residence Tom Horan, utilizing film music of the period, created a marvelous, atmospheric score that effectively mirrors those that accompanied movies of the era.
Russell McGee’s video design which incorporates film noir-flavored stock footage projected onto the set and Emily McGee’s costumes and props also contribute to the show’s technical production elements that enhance Zettelmaier’s entertaining play to the max.
For tickets and information about “Pulp” call (317) 635-7529.or visit phoenixtheatre.org