Theater Review: Red Herring a fast and furious comedic mystery

Artists’ Ensemble’s current production, Red Herring, playing in Rockford College’s Cheek Theatre, moves at a breakneck speed with scene changes that are almost dizzying. The simple set consists of boxes that become tables, chairs and offices. The background, a pier where fishing boats moor, centers the most exciting moments.

Playwright Michael Hollinger’s “noir spy spoof” seems written for this cast. Playing multiple roles, they change in an instant from shabby landlady to sophisticated grand dame. Linda Abronski assumes those rules and moves from elegancy to scruffy in a moment. The wife of Joseph McCarthy, whose witch hunt in the ’50s shook the artistic community, Abronski performs with a flair unique in theater.

Lydia Berger, Lynn McCarthy, the innocent daughter, becomes involved in a plot to pass atomic secrets to the Communists. Her fiancé, James (David Gingerich), convinces her to meet a Russian spy, Andrei Borchevsky, the captain of a fishing boat, and pass the information hidden in a box of Velveeta cheese. The incomparable Stephen F. Vrtol III portrays Andrei; Dr. Kasden, an atomic scientist; Herbert, an FBI agent; and a corpse. We are so fortunate to have such a gifted actor in our midst. His talent in delivering a comedy line and his body language keeps the audience in a state of constant hilarity.

Katie Maringer-Corirossi is Maggie Pelltier, a sophisticated detective, in a suit, Burberry raincoat and a fedora. Determined to solve the mystery, her life becomes complicated when her relationship with Frank Keller (Lance A. Retallick), an FBI agent working on the same case, leads to romance.

The costumes designed by Jan Bacino, assisted by Carm Cavallaro Rongere, could easily have been a part of a ’50s fashion show. Slight imperfections often interfere with the view we have from the audience. No detail is missing from the frowsy bedroom slippers to the stylish wedding gowns.

Red Herring moves so quickly, we can’t believe the evening has come to an end. Leaving the theater, the crowd commented positively about every aspect of the performance. I agree.

Playing through May 27, tickets are available at the Rockford College Box Office, (815) 226-4100. Director Richard Raether thanked the audience for its continuing support and briefly outlined the upcoming season. Raether’s joy in the success of Artists’ Ensemble is revealed in his constant smile. We, too, are proud of you.

from the May 16-22, 2007, issue

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