ORLANDO — Hollywood doesn’t really do true noir anymore — that genre of dark and moody crime drama that was particularly popular in the 1940s, featuring cynical hard-nosed private dicks being lured into a complex murder case by a loose dame with a suspicious look about her, but legs that can’t be beat.
Maybe that’s because since the 1970s, we’ve become such a cynical society overall that most folks would shrug at the idea of a detective who doesn’t view the big city with rose colored glasses and thinks there’s a cesspool of sin, vice, greed and malice lurking beneath those nicely paved sidewalks and brand new urban buildings and homes. These days, your average Publix customer is probably more cynical about life in general than any private eye could ever be.
If you want to discover the true essence of what film noir was all about, rent out a DVD like ”Double Indemnity” or “The Big Sleep” sometime, and watch those detectives digging into people’s dirt and discovering plenty of skeletons in their spacious closets.
Or if you want to have even more fun, check out ”Mitzi Morris in Dazzled to Death!” at the Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival, a comedy/musical that employs all the elements of those classic noirs — a murder case, a cynical detective, a sultry woman at the heart of it all — but has a few things the original Hollywood directors never thought of … you know, drag queens, campy humor, sex jokes, naughty double ententes, tap dancing, and fairly consistent and nonstop hilarity. Sure, Humphrey Bogart may have tossed off a wide crack or two in his old noir movies, but he sure never met a dame like Mitzi.
In classic noir fashion, ”Dazzled” opens with private eye Dick Diamond in his office, as the voice-over narration tells us that if there’s one thing this snooper for hire never misses, it’s the radio show by the lovely Mitzi Morris, a singer and celebrity that Dick would love to get up close to.
He gets his chance a lot faster than he expected when a dame walks into his office, and it’s none other than Mitzi, the gal who can belt out a tune to put the Andrew Sisters to shame. Mitzi needs Dick’s help — her husband was shot to death, and Mitzi is just certain that the culprit is none other than her slutty daughter-in-law, Lana, who spends most of her time running around with that handsome but empty headed tennis coach Rock Stetson.
A investigator like Diamond is exactly what Mitzi needs to prove Lana did the dirty deed to get the family fortune.
”I hear you’re the biggest dick in town,” Mitzi says, as she offers Diamond the job.
He smiles. ”Well, I am 6 foot three,” he nods.
Okay. You get the picture.
”Dazzled,” written by Kevin Kriegel and directed with a stylish flair by Kevin Bee, is the kind of play that prompts some people to say “You never know what you’re going to get at the Fringe,” and Kriegel sure delivers, never once avoiding an opportunity to milk every naughty, crude sexual pun possible in this noir setting. The show is helped enormously by the fact that Mitzi herself is one talented singer and comedian, and also by Michael Colavolpe as Diamond. Colavolpe is ideal as the detective, playing him just straight enough to evoke a ton of laughs every time he has to react nonchalantly to another Did they really just say that? sex gag.
And in addition to the mystery itself, Mitzi tosses in some pretty nifty songs (with lyrics by Kriegel and music by John B. DeHaas), a tap dancing number that truly is — well, dazzling — and, even more impressive, one doozie of a cat fight between Mitzi and Lana that’s one of the show’s real highlights.
There’s also a twist ending, a genuine passion for bad taste humor, a lengthy and explicit description of a sexually transmitted disease, seduction and betrayal. Listening to the crowd roar with laughter, it made me wonder what Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck might have done in 1944’s ”Double Indemnity” if censorship standards had been different back then. Hmmmm ….
”Mitzi Morris in Dazzled to Death!” has shows on Saturday at 3 p.m. and Sunday at 4:20 p.m. in the Yellow Venue at the Lowndes Shakespeare Theatre.
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