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Noir – the crime-fiction genre that features cynical, hard-boiled antiheroes and “bleak, sleazy settings” – generally isn’t suffused with a lot of nyuk, nyuk, nyuks.
And that’s exactly what drew director Benjamin T. Ismail to Michael Hollinger’s “Red Herring.”
Playing Aug. 24 through Sept. 15, 2012, at Big Idea Theatre, “Red Herring” combines Cold War-era commie-hunting with a murder mystery, and a trio of love stories in a fast-paced LOL-fest that plays out in more than a dozen settings across the globe.
“It’s really cheeseball, but in the best way,” said Ismail, 26, a company member of the Del Paso Heights theatrical troupe, who has participated as both a performer and director during this three-year-plus tenure as a company member.
The cinematic-styled comedy is both cerebral and physical, said Ismail, who added its whirlwind set-and-costume changes (eight actors play 18 different characters) contribute to the rapid-fire laughs presented by the frenzied farce.
Calling Carl Reiner’s film noir send-up, “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” (starring Steve Martin), a good example of the tone employed by Hollinger, Ismail said “Red Herring” offers up a flurry of smart one-liners that reflect “my kind of humor.”
While some of the dialogue/situations are “over the top,” Ismail said simply following the blueprints outlined by B-movie film noir titles provide enough guffaws for today’s audiences without the need for undo exaggeration.
“That was why I really like it,” he said.
Presented to Ismail and his fellow company members in 2011 during Big Idea’s annual internal review of possible 2012-13 season selections, Ismail said he was an instant fan of the show and was “very excited” to have the opportunity to direct.
Ismail, a Memphis, Tenn., native, said that while his career has included acting and directing, directing has always been his first love and fondly recalls his first time as a theatrical ringmaster.
“At 13, I directed a school production of ‘The Ugly Duckling’ by A.A. Milne,” Ismail said. “I’ve always known I wanted to be a director, but opportunities are hard to come by.”
Since moving to Sacramento in 2008, Ismail has amassed almost 10 mainstage directorial credits for a variety of theaters, including Resurrection Theatre and Big Idea Theatre. He also helmed Asclepius Productions’ January 2012 staged reading of “August: Osage County,” a benefit on behalf of the American Cancer Society.
Kelly Cullity, the producer of “August: Osage County,” happens to be one the featured actors in “Red Herring” (as well as the show’s dramaturg).
“We have a really great cast,” said Ismail. “It’s an ensemble show, with costume, character and set changes taking place in as little as 30 seconds. It’s really incredible and I’m extremely proud of them – their teamwork is really cool to watch.”
Ismail said his seasoned cast boasts credits galore, including a quartet of new faces to Big Idea Theatre audiences – including Cullity’s.
“Kelly’s served as dramaturg for Big Idea’s production of ‘Arcadia,’ which I directed, but never acted for the company before,” said Ismail. “She plays the ingénue of the tale, who also happens to be the daughter of Sen. Joseph McCarthy. She’s cute as a button and really, really funny.”
Other standouts include Katie Chapman, who, like Ismail, is a veteran Big Idea Theatre company member. She plays nosey neighbor Mrs. Kravitz.
“We call her Madame One-Liner,” said Ismail. Her delivery is really, really tight – I love watching her.”
Ismail also has high praise for the show’s female “swing,” who – along with her male counterpart Jouni Kirjola – play multiple roles to great comic effect.
Kirjola, in her Big Idea debut, shows off a range that Ismail promises will amaze audiences, as she runs the gamut of comedy styles.
“We’re really excited to get to work with her,” he said.
Even those who may not recall vintage film noir stars such as Robert Mitchum, Humphrey Bogart and the like will find plenty to their liking, said Ismail, who said “there’s something for everyone.”
JUST THE FACTS
WHAT: The Big Idea Theatre production of MIchael Hollinger's "Red Herring"
WHEN: Aug. 24 through Sept. 15, 2012, with performances at 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, and 2:30 p.m. Sundays
WHERE: Big Idea Theatre, 1616 Del Paso Blvd., Sacramento, Calif.
WHO: Directed by Benjamin T. Ismail; featuring: Justin L Chapman, Katie Chapman, Jouni Kirjola, Kelly Daniells, Elizabeth Holzman, Joelle Robertson, Caleb Salmon, Matthew Udall, and Hilary Wells
TICKETS: $10-$15; call (916) 960-3036, or go online at www.bigideatheatre.tix.com