Noir means noir

With the exception of Touch of Evil by Orson Welles, I don’t like cop protagonists in my noir. Why am I watching all this brooding murk if I have to associate my frisson with the fuzz?

All Good Things, the third installment of a San Francisco-styled noir to be staged at the downtown Overtime Theater, reminds me why most people, not tied to the camp or critical theory that obscures neo-noirs such as The Man Who Wasn’t There and Mulholland Drive, enjoy these kinds of crime stories.

People like to see good guys in bad trouble. And All Good Things — written by San Antonio firefighter Scott McDowell and directed by Andrew Thornton — definitely achieves the schadenfreude of this genre, which is all about pulling fast ones while pulling down on your fedora.

Its 1952 and a big guy/littler guy team of homicide detectives are on the trail of a hooded fiend who cuts up women and collects their parts. We’ve got missing hands, crushed throats, and missing eyes. And now it looks like there might be more than one psychopath to hunt down.

Detective Blake (McDowell) is a no-nonsense tough guy who cooks meatloaf for his wife when she’s at work and hides his smoking from her when she gets home. Detective Winters (Michael Burger) is a little green, has made dark choices that might compromise his career, carries a flask, and entertains a curt flirtation with a sultry pathologist.

There is a quirky edge to the feel of this play that excites the appetite for the darker classic noir of D.O.A. or In A Lonely Place. Jeffrey Dorman who plays Holland — a pampered and unpredictable San Francisco photographer with familial political ties — brings a sense of unctuous unease to the stage. His antics recall a dangerous amalgam of Crispin Glover and The Smoking Man’s son, Agent Spender of The X-Files. Georgette Lockwood, remaining mute except for some noises of muffled panic through her performance, exudes a doomed and lovely pathos that makes me think this whole performance could have been mimed. Monica Zarate is charming and convincing in a role that seems a bit historically anachronistic, but works just fine in Noir-ville.

The fight scenes, choreographed by Morgan Scharff are artful and affective, and had audience members saying “Ouch” aloud. Thornton employs a menacing jazz score in All Good Things, and his direction brings a sense of happy dread to every scene.

McDowell has written very serviceable noir that, rather then send up the genre, alludes affectionately to its finer moments. There are set-ups that recall the Billy Wilder classic Double Indemnity, and the villain shares much with the earliest Batman comic book origins of the Joker.

The film noir tropes have been hijacked, referencing everything from mayonnaise ads to Robert Coover post-modernity. When I think of the words “stage noir,” I think of the NPR irony of Garrison Keillor’s Guy Noir series, or the art crime pastiche of David Bowie’s 1995 concept album Outside. I don’t usually think of a real story with guts, heart, and comedy. But this is what audiences may expect from “All Good Things.” The sincerity of the project works.

This hour-and-a-half, two-act play is one of the better choices you can make this month. It is a well-executed, swift story of crime and yearning, ultimately respectful to a genre that is often a source of Hollywood parody and academic pretension. And you get to hear Bud Powell’s “Un Poco Loco” in a cozy theater before calling it a night at an El Pollo Loco drive-thru.


All Good Things

The Overtime Theater

Jan 14-Feb 12

1414 S Alamo

(210) 557-7562

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