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by John William See
directed by Joseph Hardy

Producer - Joseph Stern

starring Sam Anderson, James O'Connell, Kathleen Doyle,
Randy Patterson, Jay Garner, Julie Payne, Paul Michael Glaser,
Robert Picardo, Pat McNamara, James Ray,
Caroline McWilliams, Ray Stewart, Haunani Minn

Set & Lighting by Gerry Hariton & Vicki Baral
Costumes by Charles Berliner
Stage Manager - Steve Donner
Sound by Bill Hewlett
Associate Producer -
Sam Weisman


L-R: Paul Michael Glaser & Julie Payne

L-R: Haunani Minn, Paul Michael Glaser & Caroline McWilliams

Paul Michael Glaser

REVIEW - L.A. WEEKLY, Nov. 28-26, 1981

It is 1938. A successful radio producer has purchased a detective story from a writer named Raymond Chandler. Chandler is incensed that the producer is rewriting and distorting the story but seems powerless to do anything. With that as a background, playwright John William See segues into one of the slickest, smartest, funniest spoofs of the hard-boiled detective genre ever to hit the boards. It's a panoply of characters and scenes straight out of Chandler, Hammet and James M. Cain. The literary allusions and double entendres abound, many of the best lines taken straight from the best detective novels and movies. Under the sure directorial hand of Joseph Hardy, a truly versatile cast turns in excellent performances, particularly Paul Michael Glaser as the shaggy, tough-as-a-toasted-marshmallow detective. And to top it off, there's a real existential twist at the end in which the two storylines merge — the feud between the writers and the representation of their detective story on stage. The resident technical staff at the Matrix has mounted another understated, right-on-the-nose production of this clever, clever play from a smart new writer. - Anne Haskins



Remember the private eve radio dramas and all those black and white detective movies? You get both plus a large dose of satirical farce - or farcical satire, if you prefer - in John William See's The Lady Cries Murder. smoothly directed by Joseph Hardy and given a top caliber production by Joseph Stern's Actors For Themselves at the Matrix Theatre.

The play is more enjoyable if you're a Raymond Chandler fan: but if you aren't, it's still a lot of fun. The famous mystery novelist even appears in the play (in the guise of James Ray who delivers a deft performance) to accuse hack radio writer Charles Sartone. who had made a fortune stealing from others, of plagiarizing him. The second act becomes a Pirandello juxtaposition with a surprise ending (too delicious to divulge here) with Chandler asking, "Why is it people do not see the strong element of burlesque in my writing?" Well, playwright See sees it and goes to town spoofing Chandler's writing, then he spoofs the spoof.

The play begins in 1938 in New York City at Sartone's palatial home. In his newest radio adventure, called The Lady Cries Murder, he writes in roles for himself, his secretary, his butler, his lawyer and a meaty role as a crusty old dowager for his actress wife. The actors have a field day interchanging roles, as the story (such as it is) wanders from place to place and plot to plot. Jay Garner is the garrulous Sartone who hasn't time for originality: later, he's the grandiose Sidney Greenstreet-type villain Jasper Grunt. Garner has a lot of fun with both roles as does Julie Payne as wife Delores. "as scattered as Roosevelt's foreign policy." What a wav Payne has with words and facial expressions: I could watch her all evening. Ray Stewart as the butler and Kathleen Doyle as the secretary add much humor and Sam Anderson (the lawyer) becomes a Bogey bogus as Miles Swordfish. former partner of Philip Diamond.

Diamond is our hero — the "average gumshoe pushing 40." Our first glimpse of him is with fog rolling around his feet as he stands against a lamppost, shrouded in a raincoat with a fedora covering his eyes. Paul Michael Glaser cuts a dashing figure as Diamond but. as of opening night, he has not fully captured the flavor of the play. Diamond is the kind of guy who keeps his guns in his desk along with a grenade and a statue of the blackbird (get it.-): we need more of this kind of off-center playing from Glaser. Caroline McWilliams. who only adequately plays a Bacall-type babe, hires Diamond to find her husband. "It's $25 a day plus expenses," he tells her. 'You don't fool around, do you? she admonishes, but he quickly replies. "Sure, but I charge extra." Haunani Minn is Shanghai Sue, a Chinese chanteuse who sounds a lot like Dietrich, including an Elmer Fudd speech pattern. Minn captures the spirit perfectly and carries it to just this side of outrageousness. Robert Picardo is funny massacring the English language as Raoul Jamaica. Randy Patterson is a bully of a henchman and Pat McNamara and James O'Connell are dandy as cops.

Unfortunately, the satire wears thin midway through the first act. but the second act is a play of another color and that s when it becomes intriguing. Hardy keeps the pace brisk and the characterizations varied and the plav couldn't have been given a production of better quality. That genius design team of Gerry Hariton and Vicki Baral has provided a multi-level grey-toned set of high tech order and their lighting is equally inventive with brilliant use of a follow spot, vivid colors and stark shading. Charles Berliner's black and white costumes combine with other neutral shades showing the glamour and burlesque of the period while Bill Hewlett takes expert care of sound effects. Though the technical aspects excel the script and much of the acting, it is still an evening that will give you a lot of laughs.

REVIEW - L.A. TIMES, Thursday, Nov. 17, 1981

By SYLVIE DRAKE, Times Staff Writer

When Raymond Chandler asked in 1949, "Why is it that Americans do not see the strong element of burlesque in my work?," little did he know that, one year later, a young man aptly named John William See, would be born to answer it. See saw—and gave the world "The Lady Cries Murder," a Chandler parody within a parody that opened Sunday at the Matrix.

See was not the first to see, however. Chicago's Organic Theater did a Chandler parody in 1979 and suggestions of the same idea have become popular on many fronts recently. But so far "Lady" is the best, written of its genre and certainly the wittiest. It has its weaknesses, but the production at the Matrix, if a little unsteady, is very handsome and gains enough momentum as it progresses that the possibilities, if not entirely realized, are strongly visible.

"I heed a gimmick," wails Charles Sartone, the drippingly successful author of the play within the play.

And playwright See instantly delivers several. Prom that point on—an early point—things pick up. We move into a hilarious 1938 world of sexy women, hard liquor, missing persons, pretzel-plot twists, guns and gumshoes and funny lines. (A sampler: "He was shot 790 times .... The officer who investigated said it was suicide.")

Production values are impeccable. The action unfolds on a gray, all-purpose set excellently devised and lit by Gerry Harriton and Vicki Baral who have proved their worth to this theater more "than once. Charles Berliner has designed wonderful '30s costumes in every combination of black and white to give us the feel of those pre-war detective flicks. And the hero, of course, is Philip Diamond, the nearsighted dick who's hired, in the play within the play, to unravel the disappearance of—well, several people. No sense giving away the plot, particularly since it would be hard to do. Suffice it to say that the show becomes densely populated with cops, robbers, butlers (all played by Ray Stewart), one dowager, a secretary (well, two), libidinous forsaken wives and Shanghai Sue, who can't pronounce her "r's" and whose last name is Spivak.

Charming nonsense, all of it, with our hero spouting such lines as, "Call it a hunch, call it plot expediency...," or another character threatening loudly, "Just because I'm a stereotype don't mean I don't get my way." You get the drift. And See gets subtle too. There's nothing wrong with "I dreamt beautiful dreams, the kind of dreams butterflies have when they envision Chinese philosophers."

The problems—there are problems—are mostly with getting the device on the road. The opening scenes are forced, definitely so in the acting, but one suspects in the writing as well. Early allusions that Sartone might be shamelessly plagiarizing  one Raymond Chandler (while Mrs. Sartone flits brainlessly in and out of the scene) are awkward and heavy-handed. It is not until we get into the show within the show that the real fun begins.

It's clear that director Joseph Hardy knows where the play should go and how, but the production at the Matrix is not quite crisp enough and that seems largely because of casting. This kind of spoof requires rigorously precise, intellectual acting where craft and technique supersede all else. Not everyone in this company has the training or skill to do that with the women in particular falling short of the mark. They push just a little too hard and forget to let the lines do the work they were written for.

Of the men, Paul Michael Glaser (lately of "Starsky and Hutch") is a sharp deadpan, nearsighted diamond in the rough; though the early joke about his refusal to wear glasses is mysteriously abandoned by the writer about halfway through the show. Robert Picardo is terrific as thug Raoul Jamaica; Randy Patterson makes a super lummox as Shanghai Sue's birdbrained boyfriend, and Pat McNamara and James O'Connell are a splendidly matched pair of cops ("Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dumber"). As for James Ray. who comes on late as the beleaguered Chandler, he almost steals the show with a delightfully confused and innocent performance.

Jay Garner's Charles Sartone (and also his Jasper Grunt, a character he plays in his own play) is too frankly overstated. It weakens the effect Sam Anderson is much better as the wily Swordfish than as the straight-arrow lawyer Kreskin in the play's opening, moments, but that's as much the playwright's responsibility as anyone's. And Stewart as a variety of stewards and one announcer, does the best he can with a collection of fairly nondescript roles.

It was stated early on that Joe Stern and his Actors for Themselves, who are presenting the play, have great expectations for it. At this point it's not ready for Broadway, or to put it a better way, it's doubtful Broadway would be ready for it A little fixing of the opening scenes, a little recasting and this show has the potential of a "Dames at Sea" in the sophistication of its clever satire and tongue-in-cheek parody. Off Broadway might be the wiser place to start (though a mid-size theater in L.A. might also do nicely, thank you).



All fun and no play seems the best way to. describe John William See's "The Lady Cries Murder," now being presented by Joseph Stern's Actors for Themselves at Stern's attractive Matrix Theater in Hollywood.

Under Joseph Hardy's brisk, efficient direction, See's script attempts to find fresh humor in yet another satire on detectives of the '30s and '40s in. the Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe tradition. Helping to put over this slightly dated idea is an attractive production, suitably designed and lit by Gerry Hariton and Vicki Baral, with fine costumes from Charles Berliner...

Where the production excels is in its casting. "The Lady Cries Murder" is a holiday for some professional actors out to strut their stuff.

Most conspicuous in this new-found freedom is Paul Michael Glaser in the pivotal role of Philip Diamond. Yes, Glaser starts out with the properly surly look we all know from his "Starsky and Hutch" days. But once the script gets going, he comes up with an assured comic performance.

He is good enough to make one wish he would try a legitimate comedy the next time out on stage.

The rest of the cast is made up of equally talented pros. Caroline Me Williams (from TV's "Benson") is seen in two roles — one of them a variation on Mary Astor in "The Maltese Falcon." Funny Julie Payne also does double duty as a follower of our hero and an aging dowager — both satirically on target. Jay Garner is quite funny as a plagiarizing writer.

Amusing as well in their various assignments are James Ray, Robert Picardo, Ray Stewart, Haunani Minn, Randy Patterson, Kathleen Doyle, Sam Anderson, James O'Donnell and Pat McNamara.

As deftly performed as it is, "The Lady Cries Murder" does not offer anything more than you might see on TV. But if that home-viewing audience can be lured to the Matrix and decides to go along with the fun, everyone may go home happy.


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