A few hours after seeing New Paradise Laboratories’ Gumshoe, I drove deep into the Main Line. I'd heard, the way people like me always hear, about another new theater event featuring some sort of detective business, this one called Particular Risk.
Eyeballing the joint
Everyone thinks they can be a private dick. Not everyone can. But some can pretend. I shoved a pen in my pocket, fired up my 11-year-old Focus, and drove into the night.
I found myself in what thespians -- that's a fancy word for play people, they have a word for everything -- call a black box, eyeballing what could be the fanciest Hot Wheels track I've ever seen. Maiko Matsushima's weird, wonderful creation, an abstract boardwalk circa 1970, looks like the type one might find in any sun-soaked beach town full of grifters, dollies, and wannabes. This one represents Asbury Park, New Jersey, circa 1970. About 30 inches wide, the track runs all over, even up a freakin' wall, and its taller parts double as a seedy bar (I could call it home) or a reporter's desk (been there too). I was hooked.
Then the action started. Sam Tower (who has a weird thing for noir and detectives, having knocked out the hit mystery 911 Nowhere Street in the 2015 Philadelphia Fringe) directed, and local scribe Jeremy Gable, who wrote that Fringe hit, also penned this script. They like to percolate with the whole acting ensemble like some big, happy, creating family, often all dames.
Yeah, dames. Undergrads, no less. Howzabout that?
There are ten, count 'em, in Particular Risk, and they ain't playing some sort of reverse-drag gag where they're supposed to be guys, neither. There's Diane (Felicia Grable), a citizen-cum-detective peeping into some no-good scam called Nightshade. There's street racer Dana (Leah Jarvik), best pal of mechanic Bobby (sounds like a Joe, but she’s a Jane, played by Alex Wilson) both going too fast for their own good. There's sweet Eleanor (JoyAngelica Chan), a young cookie who not only files papers for the mayor, she reads 'em, which is the wrong thing to do if you wanna keep your nose clean. And you do.
Three-card-monte dealer Laura (Ellen Cohn) works the boardwalk with con artist Caoimhe (Bridget Rose McJohn), but the locals get wise to their shtick. Still, they’re drawn into Diane's mess, as are newspaper intern Sabrina (Tina Zhong) and ice-cream scooper Melanie (Hannah Chin). Bartender and chanteuse Nadia (Nellie Speers) holds court at the Belladonna, the kind of smoky joint where I've lost my dough, my head, and my heart too many times.
Tillie (Olivia Xing) rolls through all this action on a pink skateboard, chewing gum like she don't give two figs, watching like an owl, a finger in every pie. Keep an eye on her, my instincts whisper to me. They're never wrong sober.
They got a gat
These dames are fully committed, using rotary phones and typewriters like they were born with them (they weren't) and swilling Johnny Walker like it's mother's milk (it's not). They talk the talk and walk the walk like they're not fooling around. Capiche? The real deal.
Oh, and there's a gun. Did I forget to mention the gun? Go ahead, slap me sideways. You gotta know, there's always a damn gun.
Tower sends these dames darting all over boardwalk, wheeling, dealing, and conniving, in handsome shadow; Robin Stamey's lights shine through the arty fog and smoke like 6am cuts through my hangover. These characters throw down, both with old fashioned fists and a sort of choreographed physicality that gave me the shivers, you know, the good kind that tell you something fresh is happening. Matsushima also supplies the costumes, a groovy mix of 1970s duds. Diane wears a tan trench coat, and you know what that means.
In 90 minutes, they figure out Nightshade, but not without a few bruises and worse. Like Sabrina says, "You play with matches, you get burned." The morning light reveals new alliances formed, old grudges forgiven, a few tears dropped, and did I see a smile? It's a ride.
After the applause -- thunderous, I think they call it in the papers -- I hightailed it out onto the dark Bryn Mawr College campus: a clear night crisp as cold toast, an almost-full moon leering down. I took a Particular Risk and I'm glad I did.