The Clifton Monroe Chronicles, recently on the boards at Shadowbox Theatre, was a nifty cabaret show that purported to be a live radio drama. It was heavy on fun, if somewhat light on logic.
Clearly, playwrights Ren French and Thomas Adkins are fans of A Prairie Home Companion and its Guy Noir detective series. And therein lies some of their work's essential confusion. Noir as a category and radio drama as a genre both exude an aura of nostalgia — but The Chronicles were supposedly being broadcast in the present day before a studio audience.
The presentation was simple. The actors stood at music stands and used a miscellany of objects for sound effects, which were a constant and enjoyable part of the show. With references to things like pedicabs, the script made it clear the setting is present-day New Orleans.
The Announcer (Liam Krauss) took center stage to lead the narrative and make sound effects. To one side of him stood ace reporter Clifton Monroe (Richard Mayer) and his girl Friday, Mattie Parker (Leslie Boles).
Evelyn Knickerbocker (Jackie Freeman) bursts into Monroe's office. The woman — or "dame," as he puts it — brings with her "The Case of the Scarlet G" — the name of the episode. She is being terrorized by a mysterious person who leaves threatening notes signed with the letter "G" in red ink. The red ink, however, turns out to be blood. Ta-dum!
Melodramatic "Ta-dum!" moments of this sort often led to brief commercials, sung or spoken by the cast and narrator.
As he investigates, Monroe finds an odd bullet on the ground. He can't identify it, but Mattie realizes the bullet is actually a lipstick holder. Ta-dum! The trail leads to the abandoned Knickerbocker Beer brewery.
Monroe heads to the cavernous ruin with a gun, confusing whether he is a reporter or more of a private detective, and from here on the narrative gets tangled — and further complicated by a doubling of parts. Winston Knickerbocker (French), who may or may not be Evelyn's twin brother, appears and reveals that their father kept a luxury pad on the top floor of the brewery, where he made assignations with his mistress Genevieve (Freeman). Trouble erupted when his wife discovered their relationship.
Under Andrea Carlin's direction, the cast put on an amusing, razzle-dazzle divertimento with an improvised feel. Stay tuned: The Chronicles promises a new mystery episode in the fall. — DALT WONK