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Double trouble is doubly fun

A satire that pairs 'The Tangled Snarl' and 'Murder Me Once' is criminally entertaining.

June 04, 2004|David C. Nichols | Special to The Times

"A dish full of feminality so divine, I almost sent God a thank you note." This wiseacre corn, one of countless ticklers, spews from Spuds Idaho, the cracked, hard-boiled hero of "The Tangled Snarl" and "Murder Me Once." John Rustan and Frank Semerano's fractured film noir at the Fremont Centre Theatre is delightfully flat-footed satire.

James Reynolds, who directed "Snarl's" 1981 premiere, helms its teaming here with new companion piece "Murder." They make a knee-slapping double feature.

"Snarl" suggests Dashiell Hammett's "The Maltese Falcon" as rewritten by Carl Reiner. Perpetually imbibing Spuds (an inspired Todd Babcock) greets us while removing a slug from his gut. He awaits a mysterious package from mobster Legs Flamingo, soon to be one dead pigeon.

Enter treacherous Leslie Detweiler (Denise Boutte, in for Mary Beth Evans at the reviewed performance). Besides this Milton Caniff-contoured femme fatale, Spuds braves mashing by helium-voiced secretary Ginny (the hysterical Daphne Bloomer), a shady goon (original cast member Dan Payne) and an obnoxious brat (Arman Manyan).

"Murder" ups the antic ante, spinning Raymond Chandler through a Ernie Kovacs kaleidoscope. Spuds lands clavicle-deep in possible perps after the "suicide" of millionaire Coins Fontaine. The obvious choice to have cashed in Coins is his martini-dry widow, Myra (the delectable Arianne Zuker).

However, Spuds cannot shortchange Coins' grown daughters, mugging brainiac Chantel (Cathrine Munden) and Saphron (Alison McMillan), a nymphomaniac Girl Scout. Grimacing butler Grieves (Richard Voigts), multi-accented Lt. Brogue (Roger A. Davis) and a revolving guest cameo complete the case files. Chuck Weintraub, Emily Button and Arloa Reston are other alternates.

Reynolds' deadpan suspects sustain feverish tempos and witty, monochromatic B movie designs. Victoria Profitt's sets, Bill E. Kickbush's lighting, Lois Tedrow's costumes, Judi Lewin's hair and James Jontz's sound merge Howard Hawks and Preston Sturges.

The fierce farceurs commit first-degree hilarity, spurred by Babcock's bazooka-powered vocal attack and terrific timing. At the reviewed performance, Spuds' office doorknob came off, threatening the rapid-fire trajectory. All concerned turned a potential disaster into gold, improvising in character with riotous spontaneity. That fingers the pulse of this criminally entertaining pastiche.

*

'The Tangled Snarl' and 'Murder Me Once'

Where: Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena

When: Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 p.m.

Ends: July 25

Price: $17-$20

Contact: (626) 441-5977

Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes

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