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'Laura' lives on in Playhouse production

October 14, 2004

Tom Titus

Turning the clock back six decades, to a period in which film noir

was Hollywood's favorite flavor, you find pictures like "The Maltese

Falcon," "Double Indemnity" and "The Naked Jungle" that defined the

genre. And right up there with them was the quirky whodunit "Laura."

Vera Caspary's novel became one of the more celebrated mystery

dramas when it splashed across the screen with Gene Tierney in the

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title role. Playwright George Sklar widened the story's appeal when

he adapted it for the stage.

"Laura" has been produced only once before locally, about a decade

ago by the Huntington Beach Playhouse -- the same group which is

reviving it in a current production. And director Marla Gam Hudson is

clinging to the dimly lighted period flavor that enhanced the

original movie version -- even though no time period is established

in the program, you know it's the 1940s.

While not entirely engrossing, the show offers some captivating

performances, the best of which, unfortunately, was confined to

opening weekend. Reed Boyer opened the show in the role of the

erudite, sophisticated scribe Waldo Lydecker (played memorably on the

screen by Clifton Webb), but another actor, Stevenn Tyler, will

finish out the next two weekends in his stead.

Boyer, in his brief encounter, captivated the audience with his

crackling wit and maddening egotism as the wealthy older man who

loved and lost Laura, yet remained a force in her life until her

"death" -- which we soon learn was, as Mark Twain's once was, greatly

exaggerated.

Laura herself, in the living, breathing flesh, is enticingly

interpreted by Jasmine Curry as a beautiful career woman who

evidently enjoys keeping admirers in her thrall, though Curry could

be more effective with an increase in volume. Her character's

narcissism is grandly displayed in the form of a huge portrait of her

that dominates her apartment.

Initially investigating Laura's murder, but staying on to probe

the death of her unfortunate friend to whom she loaned the use of her

apartment, is Todd Fuessel as Detective Mark McPherson, a jaded cop

with a slight limp from a bullet taken in the line of duty. Fuessel

is strong, albeit uneven, in his methodical mission as a dedicated

crime buster, though certainly not immune to Laura's charms himself.

David Herbelin adopts a convincing Southern accent as Shelby,

Laura's erstwhile fiance, who knows more about the actual murder than

he's willing to admit. Ronnie Alvarez, as the teen-age kid from

downstairs with the hots for Laura, turns in one of the strongest

performances of the cast in a limited role.

Completing the Huntington Beach production are a jittery cook

(Grace Lynne), Alvarez's stern mother (Jackie Gannon) and an

assistant cop (Brandon Perry), all of whom fill their assignments

adequately.

Set designer James W. Gruessing Jr. has fashioned a spacious upper

class New York apartment, which has been lavishly decorated and

furnished by Andrew Otero, who also supplies the effective period

costumes. Melissa Clouse's lighting retains the play's darkly ominous

atmosphere. There is a modicum of smoking on stage, enough to

establish the period.

"Laura" -- with its haunting title music interspersed generously

throughout the show -- is a splendid reproduction of one of

Hollywood's classic moments of long ago.

* TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Independent.

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