It is amazing what can be done with a bare stage when put in the hands of a remarkable director. With a talented ensemble, creative lighting and a few simple props, Director Sean Hargadon shows you can do amazing things with the stunning thriller “D.O.A.” at Steel Beam Theatre in St. Charles.
Factor in the addition of inventive uses of color in the costuming, and the wandering ebb and flow of a meticulously selected jazz soundtrack guiding the audience’s emotions, and what Steel Beam Theatre has on its hands is a bona fide work of art.
D.O.A. is short for dead on arrival – a term used when a body shows up at a hospital with no heartbeat, far beyond hope of revival. This stage version of “D.O.A.” is based on the classic 1950 film noir work. It is scripted by Elizabeth Lovelady, based on the screenplay by Russel Rouse and Clarence Greene.
Lovelady also directed the original world-premiere production at Strawdog Theatre Company in 2016, winning the Non-Equity Jeff Award for Best Adaptation. That is a testament to the authenticity of the script, capturing the essence of film noir.
The story starts with everyman Frank Bigelow informing police detectives he needs to report a murder – and he’s the victim. The story then moves to the days leading up to this revelation, with Bigelow at work as an accountant in California. In other words, he has an average job in an average city. On this particular occasion, Bigelow has his sights set on a weekend vacation in nearby San Francisco.
But that simple trip to get away from the office for a few days doesn’t go as planned. His death warrant has been signed.
However, before any of this occurs, Hargadon sets the mood by using choreographed movements, stark lighting, fitting music and suggestive poses to paint a stage picture that Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles would both be jealous of.
What next ensues is a 75-minute journey into a world that could well have jumped off the silver screen of yesteryear. The attention to detail in creating this world demands the ultimate respect.
Costumes by Marge Uhlarik-Boller perfectly capture the mood. This world is painted in blacks, whites and grays. When colors appear in the costuming, it is done to draw attention to a specific character and to make a specific point.
Like an actual film made in the 1950s, scenes are short with quick jumps in location. The action remains in perpetual motion, with scene changes choreographed to match the jazz beats of the soundtrack.
I am a firm believer that if you can’t hide it, flaunt it. Here, it is the actors themselves who move the minor pieces of furniture necessary to suggest each new location – all in plain view of the audience. Because each and every movement is made with purpose, precision and character, the scene changes add to the story.
In fact, every movement on stage is precise and in sync. The blocking matches the music, and the character positioning is key to the lighting design by Hargadon and Cassie Hanlin.
I can’t say enough about the lighting, which is brilliant in its simplicity. In one example, a scene is lit only by a single flashlight in an otherwise total blackout. It is incredibly effective.
I really like the cast. It is clear they have all put in a lot of work on their characters, with a true commitment to detail. When an actor pays attention to the fact that men and women walked and gestured differently in the 1950s, you know they’ve done their homework. Those little details can turn a good performance into a great one.
Dean Gallagher plays the central figure of Frank Bigelow. He is a strong leading man and very believable in the role. His expressions and movements are never too big, which can be a problem for some actors in an intimate space.
All the other actors in the play are tasked with creating multiple characters in addition to their primary one.
Tiffany Jasinski turns in a nice performance as Bigelow’s love interest, Paula. She builds her characterization over the course of the show, adding different layers.
Paul Anderson is imposing in all his roles, creating memorable characters on both sides of the law. Sami Casten is also a standout as Ms. Foster, a San Francisco secretary Bigelow encounters along the way.
Heidi Schultz plays up the sexuality in several of her characters, clearly having fun. Mike Speller is credible as the head of the business Ms. Foster works at.
Larry Boller is intimidating as Majak, a businessman with questionable ethics. Krista Krauss Miller does a pleasant job as a grieving widow, and Mace Jendruczek shows off some fine acting skills in his multiple roles.
The degree of detail that Hargadon and the cast have poured into “D.O.A.” is mirrored by the offstage work done by the production team. Period props that appear convincing to an audience sitting close to the stage can be a challenge on a modest budget. But just as she did with costuming, Uhlarik-Boller, Steel Beam’s artistic director, hits a home run with props.
Also on the production team are assistant director and stage manager Elissa Wolf, assistant director and stage manager Tara Morrison, movement director Jennifer Reeves Wilson, fight director Stetson Cross, and intimacy director Claire Yearman. Theater staff include managing director Catie Early and box office manager Faun Cooper.
Steel Beam Theatre’s jazz-infused thriller is breathtaking.
• Rikki Lee Travolta is an award-winning creative talent who has appeared throughout the country as a theatrical headliner, as well as in film and television. Visit www.RikkiLeeTravolta.com.
IF YOU GO
WHERE: Steel Beam Theatre, second floor at 111 W. Main St., St. Charles
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through May 14
INFORMATION: www.SteelBeamTheatre.com, 630-587-8521, email@example.com