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THEATER REVIEW

'Bloodhounds' Loses Track of Its Own Trail

January 23, 1998|ROBERT KOEHLER

ORANGE — Given its basic elements, "Bloodhounds," Kevin Darne and Roosevelt Blankenship Jr.'s new murder mystery at the Ensemble Theatre, should not be boring. But that it is, and it's partly because Blankenship is both director and co-star with Darne. If ever a new play demanded an outside voice to call a halt when things go off-track, this is the one.

That outsider might tell Blankenship and company that, yes, the play has the foundation of a good whodunit: a bevy of suspects, a natural clash between the police detective and the private investigators (Blankenship's Paul and Darne's Reggie), plausible murder scenarios and multiple motives, plus the extra juice of the detective heroes being black men surviving in '60s Southside Chicago.

The problem is that these elements don't play onstage; hampered by ham-fisted dialogue, sketchy character portraits and consistently sloppy staging, what should be a tension-packed story limps to its conclusion.

Seemingly inspired by a bunch of past sad-sack gumshoe TV dramas and especially Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins detective yarns, "Bloodhounds" establishes Paul and Reggie as PIs just scraping by until a fetching gal named Laura (Stacie Carson) enters to tell them of a shakedown scheme in which she's embroiled. Reggie must also contend with wife Dorothy (Rachel Colover) telling him he's a dreamer (read: loser) and that she's left him for another man.

This guy turns out to be Carl (Craig A. Jackman), who's two-timing Dorothy with--you guessed it--Laura while running a Southside bar and haven for a numbers racket commandeered by Johnny (Philip-Anthony Traylor), a nickel-and-dime mobster who's never without his dumb, hulking thug Jo-Jo (Gino England).

Carl gets squeezed--what with some numbers-racket cash suddenly missing--between Johnny's torture methods, Laura's threats and Dorothy's demands to have him all to herself, preferably in Rio. Carl does book a flight, and quickly gets capped by an unseen killer.

Then "Bloodhounds" loses its own scent. Enter a Chicago PD detective, Einstein (John Suttle), whose name is the play's unfortunate idea of a joke. Einstein seems like a mediocre detective who badly needs Paul and Reggie's help, and because Suttle delivers a badly nervous, sometimes inaudible performance, the solving of this crime is painfully protracted. Unlikely action brings all the suspects together in the bar, leading to repetitive exchanges, insults, barbs, lame jokes and clumsily staged flashbacks.

Darne and Blankenship share some good-guy chemistry, but only Traylor manages a credible performance, giving off a sense of Johnny's failed attempts at copping a superior attitude though he's really just a petty crook.

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* "Bloodhounds," Ensemble Theatre, 844 E. Lincoln Ave., Suite E, Orange. Friday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Jan. 29-31, 8 p.m. Ends Jan. 31. $15-$20. (714) 559-4879. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

Reggie: Kevin Darne

Roosevelt Blankenship Jr.: Paul

Stacie Carson: Laura

Rachel Colover: Dorothy

Craig A. Jackman: Carl

Philip-Anthony Traylor: Johnny

Gino England: Jo-Jo

John Suttle: Det. Einstein

An Eastern Boys production of Kevin Darne and Roosevelt Blankenship Jr.'s murder mystery. Directed by Blankenship.

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