Stoneham Theatre’s ‘Laura’ an intriguing noir



Alexander Cook, Molly Kimmerling, Steven Barkhimer

Laura Hunt is dead.

It was a shotgun blast to the face as she answered the door of her posh New York City Apartment. The only question was who killed the beautiful and successful advertising executive – and why?

In Stoneham Theatre’s production of Laura, answering that question falls to NYC Police detective Mark McPherson (played by Alexander Cook), as hardboiled a gumshoe as there ever was. Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade have nothing on this dick.

Was the killer Laura’s playboy fiancé, Shelby Carpenter (Alexander Molina)? After all, wasn’t he caught flirting with a friend of Laura’s just the night before?

Alexander Cook, Steven BarkhimerOr was it Waldo Lydecker (Steven Barkhimer), Laura’s former beau and current sugar daddy, an effete dandy who has used his influence as a newspaper columnist to help advance Laura’s career?

And what about the apartment building superintendent’s teenage son, Danny Dorgan (Eliot Purcell). Didn’t he have a major crush on Laura?

But then, who didn’t, right? That was the thing about Laura. Every man fell for her, even McPherson. As he goes through her apartment investigating the murder, his interest in Laura becomes an obsession, fueled in part by the alluring portrait of her hanging on the wall of the living room.
Alexander Molina, Alexander Cook
As the parade of suspects show up one-by-one at her apartment, their flashback recollections of Laura (played by Jasmine Rush) further flesh out McPherson’s picture of this creature that no man could resist.

To film noir buffs who remember the 1944 movie starring Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Clfton Webb and Vincent Price, rest assured that the play unfolds quite differently, with theatrical limitations demanding that all of the action take place in one apartment.

In the movie, the plot was advanced by showing Laura as an early shatterer of the glass ceiling: a highly successful female advertising executive in a male dominated field. The Stoneham production seems determined to further obliterate all of the old mid-Twentieth century stereotypes.

Director Sarah Gazdowicz employs an effective device even before the house lights dim. As the audience is being seated, Det. Mark McPherson is already on stage, alternately poking through Laura’s apartment and staring intently at her portrait on the wall. It establishes even before the opening curtain that the case is personal for McPherson.

Alexander CookAnd the tall, craggy-faced actor Alexander Cook may have been born to play the part of a hardboiled detective. He captures the cool demeanor and no-nonsense approach we have come to expect from our fictional gumshoes. Raymond Chandler and Dashell Hammett themselves could hardly have conjured up a better investigator.

Another standout is Steven Barkhimer as the aloof and obnoxiously pedantic newspaper columnist who cares not a whit that the high esteem in which he holds himself is not shared by those around him.

In a small but key role, Molly Kimmerling shines as Laura’s housekeeper who discovered the corpse when she arrived for work.

Rounding out the cast is Liana Asim as Mrs. Dorgan.

Alexander Cook, Eliott PurcellA tip of the cap to scenic designer James Tolman. He has assembled an authentic period set that will look familiar to those of a certain age, right down to the mid-century modern furniture (including a kidney-shaped coffee table). The hi-fi console phonograph, the period lamps and even the liquor decanters and ice bucket complete the picture of a posh 1940s Manhattan apartment.

Even if you’ve seen the picture, it’s fun to watch Det. McPherson assemble the pieces of this unusual puzzle. If you like your detectives hard boiled and your mysteries with a twist, Stoneham Theater’s Laura may be just your cup of tea.

Laura runs through May 22 at Stoneham Theatre, 395 Main St, Stoneham. Purchase tickets online or phone 781-279-2200.

[LAURA, by George Sklar and Vera Caspary. Directed by Sarah Gazdowicz. Scenic Design, James Tolman. Lighting Design, Deb Sullivan. Costume Design, Erica Desautels. Sound Design, Chris Larson. Props Manager, Misaki Nishimiya. Production Stage Manager, Dominique D. Burford.]

(This review originally appeared in the May 9, 2016 Wakefield Daily Item.)

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