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The Collective Project’s Red Herring Steals More than Just Laughter

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Photo by Justin Hadley.

Running until July 29, 2012, is the world premier of the Collective Project’s latest theatrical event, The Red Herring–a play dedicated to old detective films, the noir genre, and filled with comedy and perfectly placed clichés.

Directed by Andrew Crigler and written by Greg Garrison, The Red Herring stays true to The Collective Project’s motto: work for Atlanta, by Atlanta. It is original, fun, and not afraid to be incredibly self-deprecating about the genre they are portraying.

The space in The Goat Farm Arts Center fits the dark, almost black-and-white feel of the play. Pillars cut the stage into sections and allow for screens to show silhouettes of the characters and add drama to slow-motion fight scenes. It all felt very film like with piano accompaniment and candlelight. There was obvious inspiration from classic films and their stock characters for each joke and direction. Think The Maltese Falcon and The Woman In The Window. Like with most film noir works, the title is very telling for what is going to be an object of mystery and desire.

The Collective Project put on a performance that was back-to-the-basics theater, where all you need is chairs for an audience and a stage to work a bit of magic. The heart was there, and the experience as an audience member made me not only take notice, but also sit back and enjoy. The Red Herring held onto its roots in the noir realm but also wasn’t afraid of a bit of mockery. Detective Steel, played by Matthew Myers, was very proud of, and never held back during his “monologueing,” a spoof on the breaking of the fourth wall where the private eye would catalogue clues, find the connections, and “eureka!”—the answer is revealed all while keeping a stony expression and deep baritone.

Detective Steel, who may not be able to stand hearing his first name, “Stainless,” headed up the well-rounded and fully committed cast. Matt Bartholomew played the bumbling and new-to-the-detective-field sidekick, Watley Holm. You can try and look for the clues of the true mystery that gets Holm involved, but even the best private eye would have a hard time spotting it.

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Vesper Kind, played by Melissa Oulton, is the vampy seductress that toys with all men’s hearts but can’t resist a man named after metal. The bad guys are made up of three characters: Rod and Wilhelm Wrong, played by Corey Bradberry and Patrick Baxter, respectively, and Armand Valdoe, played by Will Jones, the man whose bank account has stolen Vesper away from her complicated relationship with Steel.

Where as many times that ensemble actors are looked over and merely play as extras and fill-ins, The Red Herring showcased Atlanta’s acting talent. Sarah Beth Rapson, Dylan Schettina, and Trevor Goble may have had minor stage time, but their bits added major impact to the show. With Goble and Schettina playing newsies with impeccably timed one-liners and scooting around on their knees and Rapson showing a softer side to Steel, these characters were never overlooked or underappreciated by cast or audience.

The characters aren’t just slapstick; they are genuine. They fit the prototypes that the old films created but bring new and relatable qualities to them. The characters are funny and quirky. There is crime and mystery to be solved, but there are also compelling complex relationships, and a twist in the end that you will never see coming.

The Collective Project has brought back the old joy of attending theater with The Red Herring. The puns will keep you laughing and, yes, shaking your head a little while you do it. The twists in plot will keep you guessing. And the characters will lend moments of mockery just as much as they will allow you to see their soul.