The Archbold Community Theatre production of “Death By Chocolate” takes the old-style detective story and gives it a comic treatment that will have even the hardest of hard-nosed detectives laughing out of their shoes.
Many detective movies of the 1940s and 50s were done in a style known as “Film Noir.” Noir is French for “black.” It describes the stark black-and-white photography, the often-dark scenes, and the somewhat cynical tone of some of the characters.
All the elements are there: murder, blackmail, a widow in black, an undercover cop, a very rich, dead uncle, twins separated as infants, a girl from a small town trying to make it on the Nashville stage, and a down-onhis luck private eye and his dedicated gal Friday, all squeezed into a coffee shop for a background.
It’s like Craig Sodaro, the play’s author, went through the plot-and-character buffet line and loaded up his plate twice.
Forget trying to solve it yourself; this plot has more twists than a pretzel factory, as characters reveal more and more about themselves.
Jeff Patterson, Archbold, turns himself into the stereotypical private eye with his trench coat and hat and 5 o’clock (more like about 6:30) shadow. He even laments that he can’t smoke in Giffey Hall to provide the right atmosphere.
His character, Nick Noir (get it?) isn’t the brightest detective out there, and he plays it perfectly.
Jeff Roth, Pettisville, does an outstanding job with his first ACT appearance, as Francois Le Pew. His overdone French accent is just right.
Shawn Liechty, rural Archbold, plays a couple of roles within the same character. To say more than he does a good job with both might give away too much.
Susan Dominique, Archbold, is tasked with playing an old woman, which she does well.
Teresa Van Sickle is Bobbie Sue Cash, who dreams of being a country music star– but as Patterson’s Noir says, as a country singer she’s a better plumber. Van Sickle has to be pretty good to be that bad.
Special recognition goes out to Susan Short, who plays Bonbon Purvis, one of the two sisters who run Precious Perks, the coffee shop where the play takes place. She stepped into the role at the last minute and plays it like a pro.
There is one member of the cast that should be indicted for felony theft, because she steals the scenes she’s in.
Michelle Johnson, Wauseon, was born to do comedic theatre. She throws herself into the role of Selma, Noir’s overly dedicated secretary who’s about half a step faster than Noir himself.
Johnson can dash around the stage, with her intensity meter set on 11 on a 1-10 scale. She inflects her voice and twists her face in a dozen different expressions without a hint of inhibition. She’s a joy to watch.
Opening night at Giffey Hall went without a hitch. If somebody blew a line or made a mistake, it wasn’t noticeable.
Fans of live theatre, fans of film noir detective stories who don’t take them too seriously, and people who enjoy a good laugh will enjoy “Death by Chocolate.”
There are four more chances to see it at Giffey Hall: Friday and Saturday, Dec. 7-8, at 7:30 pm, and Sunday, Dec. 9 at 2:30 pm.
A 9 pm New Year’s Eve performance was just added.
As Bogie (Humphrey Bogart, a film-noir star), might say, “See you there, sweetheart.”– David Pugh