Film noir is neither blithe nor bombastic, which makes it one of the least likely of American forms. Consider: The hardboiled private eye; the reliable secretary; the femme fatale. The sidelong glances. The cigarettes. The music—from the wah-wah to the low rumble of orchestral anxiety. The cruelty and ambiguous motivations (sex plays a key role, usually as a means to an end). All of it captured on black-and-white celluloid, stylish and moody. With “Noir,” creator-director Blake Montgomery—whose rehabbed industrial space on the near West Side is a bona fide theater destination (called The Building Stage)—deconstructs and distills the clichés into a work that is just this side of sketch comedy. A collage that blends everything from “The Maltese Falcon” to “The Big Sleep,” the show is both witty and reverential about its source material. It skids across the surface details, though, without actually penetrating too deep. That, I think, is what distinguishes it from the best noir films, which can leave you feeling boths smacked around and engaged by the deceptions and depressions that make up the human existence. (An entirely different sort of theater noir—about two modern-day cops—can be found across town in “A Steady Rain” at Chicago Dramatists.) But in terms of aesthetics, Montgomery knows what he is doing. Lee Keenan’s lighting design is crucial—the long, husky shadows; the muted glow creeping through the slats of an unseen window blind, tattooing the wall. (Keenan also designed the set, a soaring space defined by pivoting walls that suggests the slipperiness of truth as it reveals itself in film noir.) The script is a showcase of jargon, each utterance layered on top of the last so that nothing makes sense—but of course it does, in some hard to define way. “Good morning, angel,” says the man in a trench coat. “I’m Doll,” replies the young woman, and points to another woman on stage: “That’s Angel.” Good stuff. (The cast, which includes a pert Sarah Goeden, with a period-perfect face and sexy-secretary routine, are also credited as the show’s creators.) I’m not entirely sure why Montgomery has situated the audience so far from the action—the first row is set back and raised a good five-feet above the stage. Sometimes it feels like you are spying on the proceedings from a rooftop perch. Too often, things are happening in the distance. There is a specific you-are-there joy of off-Loop theater—seeing the veins on an actor’s neck; heck, seeing the pores on an actor’s face—that is missing here, as if swallowed up by so much Hollywood-generated fog. (Nina Metz) The Building Stage, 412 N. Carpenter, (312)419-1369. Fri-Sat 8pm/Sun 7pm. $10-$20. Through November 3.
At the Building Stage, 412 N. Carpenter, (312)491-1369. This production is now closed.