Wide shot of dive bar: A young man and woman are seated in a booth. An older couple sits at a nearby table. Two men, one older, one younger, are sitting at another table. An attractive young woman tends bar.

Medium shot of couple one: They exchange words of love, kiss passionately, decide to kill her husband.

Medium shot of couple two: They are psychiatrist and patient, but their conversation implies a relationship which goes beyond the professional.

Medium shot of two men: The younger of the two—the older man’s son—has just been released from prison. “How’s the memory?” the father asks. “‘How’s the memory?’” his son repeats. “I took two bullets to the head, old man.”

No, you’re not inside a movie theater at a revival screening of a classic film noir, but at Player King Productions’ Los Angeles premiere of Dennis Lehane’s highly cinematic, très noir Coronado—a crackerjack tale of sex, betrayal, revenge, and (you guessed it)—murder.

Over the course of Coronado’s lickety-split first act, playwright Lehane (of Mystic River/Shutter Island fame) switches focus from Couple One to Couple Two to Couple Three and back again, dropping clues along the way, clues that tease our brains as we follow each pair’s storyline over a period of about nine months.

What connects these six characters isn’t fully revealed until Act Two, and figuring it out requires considerable audience smarts, for like the film Memento, Coronado plays tricks with time, and like any noir worth its salt, not everyone we meet is who they claim to be or who we assume them to be at first glance.

In short, Coronado is a doozy of a play noir, and one well worth checking out, particularly since its Sunday-through-Tuesday schedule makes it ideal for theatergoers eager to spice up the mid-week doldrums.

Director Drew Shirley keeps the pacing swift and the acting razor sharp. Brahm Gallagher and Gina Lohman give dynamic performances as the adulterous couple, with Mark Schroeder offering solid support as the young wife’s cuckolded spouse. Emily Elizabeth does gutsy work as the tormented patient of psychiatrist Shawn Parsons, who vanishes inside the shrink’s nerdy skin. Samuel Dahl is an electric young presence as Bobby, scarred by life and by a monster of a father, played to scary perfection by David Preston. A terrific Alexandra Oliver shows up midway as the mysterious Gwen, who may hold the key to at least one of Coronado’s several puzzles. Hannah Marie Hines makes the most of her moments as the bar’s attractive drink-mixer. Cy Brown and Ameilia Jane Murphy complete the ensemble in brief appearances as Man and Young Woman.

Several of the cast are founding members of Player King Productions, a talented young bunch whose stated aims include “breaking down boundaries between audience and the action, and performing in unconventional spaces.”

The Holding Company, the 4500-sq. ft. multi-use space located just south of Silver Lake on Beverly Blvd., fits the above description, though with certain drawbacks. A large enclosed outdoor patio leads into a white-walled interior that works particularly well for Act One’s set design but less so in the second act. More problematic are blocked sightlines for those not seated in the front row, with folding chairs scoring low on the comfort scale. Following the performance reviewed here, I was told by an audience member that those seated farther back, particularly house left, experienced difficulty hearing stage-left dialog, though my guest and I had no difficulty seated front row, house right.

Scenic designer Alex Choate places tables, chairs, a booth, and a bar counter across the wide stage area for Act One, neon beer signs adding to the décor, which turns front-row audience members into eavesdropping barflies. Act Two’s various locales are less effectively realized, particularly when compared with more elaborately detailed 99-seat designs around town.

Adriana Lambarri’s costumes are first-rate as is Patrick Janssen’s atmospheric sound design. Matt Richter’s lighting is more basic than the designer’s usual work, doubtless a result of the production’s non-traditional venue, but it does an effective job of focusing attention on wherever the action is taking place. Sarah Harburg-Petrich is stage manager.

Coronado not only offers playgoers the rare chance to enjoy theatre noir but is sure to provide ample food for talk about “Who was who?” and “Who did what to whom?” A return visit might prove even more rewarding than the first, if only to see how Lehane’s clues, strewn about in tiny bits here and there, fit together in this intriguing, suspenseful puzzle.

The Holding Company, 3215 Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles.

–Steven Stanley
March 5, 2012
Photos: Ben Newton

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