The City That Cried Wolf
nytheatre.com review by Josephine Cashman
August 19, 2006
Rhyme Town is not a happily-ever-after kind of city. In fact, as disgraced cop-turned-private dick Jack B. Nimble tells us, "It's soft and ugly, like a mother who spoke dirty and sang you drunken lullabies." It's the kind of town where Miss Muffet's a streetwalking transvestite, gangs of wolves are apparently blowing down houses, and Councilman Humpty-Dumpty's just been found sunny-side up on the pavement. Jack's on the case, looking for the culprit, and all signs seem to point straight at Dumpty's widow, Bo Peep, the sexy torch song singer at the Hey Diddle Diddle nightclub. He's even more motivated when Mother Goose, the Chief of Police, offers him his badge back if he can solve this increasingly murky case. Clearly, this is not a show for children, but what a show it is!
Playwright Brooks Reeves craftily brings out the best in noir and the worst in nursery rhyme characters, writing an ingenious, comical, suspenseful mystery that also raises unsettling questions about race relations, corruption, and how much freedom people are willing to give up in order to feel safe. He does this with a lively sense of style, and without skimping on puns, jokes, and double entendres. With nods to Chinatown and other classic noir films, and a sure knowledge of nursery rhymes, Reeves has written one of the smartest scripts I've seen this year.
Daniel Barnes's smart direction is strong and fast-paced. He creates moments that are almost cinematic, and makes terrific use of the stage and the multitude of props and costume changes. The onstage violence is both graphic and funny. There are, unfortunately, a few slips here and there. Bo Peep's musical number felt uneven and tentative, and Peep herself seemed to have trouble with her singing. The keystone cops' nebulously legal search of Jack's apartment goes on a bit too long, however funny it may be—it's a joke that wears out its welcome in an otherwise remarkable production.
The technical aspects of the show are impressive, with sophisticated sound design by Mat Bussler, and inventive house music composed by Mark Jones. The lighting and scenic design felt a bit flat at times, but the actors more than make up for any technical misses. Adam La Faci is inspired as Jack and Chloe Demrovsky as Mother Goose is hilarious, mincing like a fowl and honking when she laughs. On the whole, the zany ensemble does an excellent job, most of them playing a multitude of characters with ease, skill, and great physical comedy.
I was thoroughly enchanted by The City That Cried Wolf and its clever, crooked, dirty little world. The show is gritty, hilarious, and has a cautionary note that stays with you, like the lonely and desperate howl of a wolf, perhaps hiding in sheep's clothing.