DECEIT is a stage to video adaptation of a comedy-mystery
written and directed by Bruce Kimmel who cineastes may recall as
the writer-director of the cult film THE FIRST NUDIE MUSICAL
(1976) and for contributing to the story of the 1998 horror comedy
THE FACULTY. Theater enthusiasts will know him for his terrific
series of recordings called "Unsung Musicals" (recordings of songs
from Broadway musicals that have been overlooked or never
commercially recorded) and "Lost in Boston" (songs cut from
musicals on the road). It's a pretty open secret that Kimmel also
appears on the recordings under the alter ego of Guy Haines.
While the aforementioned CDs aren't available on his current
website Kritzerland it does have the catalog of available recordings
and DVDs for purchase. And that brings us to DECEIT, which
was filmed over two performances of the play at the El Portal Forum
Theatre in North Hollywood.
The play is an old-fashioned throwback to the sort of show
that was popular on Broadway before it became a commercialized
wasteland. This is not a slam at the writing -- I mean it in a good
way. Kimmel knows his antecedents and he utilizes some of the
clichés of the genre as well as subverting them. The action unfolds
on one set, the Upper West Side home of the late Jeffrey Hartman.
Oh yeah, it's also a dark and stormy night. Jeffrey's younger widow
Kate (Tammy Minoff) is awaiting a visit from one of her husband's
oldest friends, Michael (Matthew Ashford, whom viewers of daytime
television will know as Jack Devereux of Days of Our Lives,
although I recall him in his previous incarnation as Cagney McCleary
on Search for Tomorrow).
Michael arrives and he and Kate exchange banter and it soon
becomes clear to the audience that there's more going on than meets
the eye. The action leads up to an event that is trumped by a twist
that viewers and audience members may have expected, but it does
provide some surprise. To reveal any more of the plot and its various
permutations would spoil it for anyone interested in watching.
Ashford does a terrific job of anchoring the play and negotiating
the various shifts in his character. In fact, he does most of the heavy
lifting in the show. Tammy Minoff looks great in the part but she is
not as accomplished a dramatic actress as called for by the role. She's
adequate but no more. Occasionally there are flashes when she rises
to the challenge, but most of the time, she seems to be struggling.
Kimmel appears as the deceased in a videotape. As he explains on
the commentary, he stepped into the role after the actor originally
cast appeared to be having trouble.
The stage effects work well and are captured on video without
losing anything but without giving away the details either. Since this
was a filmed stage performance, the possibility of things not going
correctly was always there. (In fact, there were a few glitches, but
one would only know of them if they listened to the commentary.)
Kimmel clearly knows and respects the genre and his plot
more or less passes scrutiny. Except for the mentions of video
and CDs, the production easily could have unfolded in the
Golden Age of Broadway when the well-made thriller passed muster.
(I'm thinking of shows like SORRY, WRONG NUMBER.) Yet, the
writer also manages to keep the audience on edge with various
surprises, not unlike, say Ira Levin's long-running DEATHTRAP.
The stage to video transfer is very accomplished so kudos
to Kimmel who directed. Matt Scarpino's set design is functional and
Mark Merthe's editing creates tension for the home viewer.
This is a nice, pleasant production that in earlier years might
have found an outlet on public television's Theater in America
and later American Playhouse (like those filmed plays available
under the banner of the Broadway Theatre Archive).
All in all DECEIT is an enjoyable viewing experience,
especially for fans of Matthew Ashford.
Running time: 78 mins.
|© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.