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 that you can do amazing things with the stunning thriller D.O.A at Steel Beam Theatre in St. Charles.
Factor in the addition of a few creative 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 bonafide work of art of art.
FILM NOIR CLASSIC
D.O.A. is the abbreviation for Dead on Arrival – a term used when a body shows up at a hospital with no heartbeat and far beyond hope of revival. This stage version of D.O.A. is based on the classic 1950 film noir movie. 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 true spirit of film noir. What Steel Beam Theatre does now with D.O.A. is breathtaking.
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 Sacramento. 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. In that short scope of time, his death warrant has been signed.
However, before any of this occurs, Hargadon sets the mood by using choregraphed movements, stark lighting, fitting music, and suggestive poses to paint a stage picture that Alfred Hitchcock and Orsen Wells would both be jealous of.
LIVE ON STAGE
What next ensues is a seventy-five-minute journey into a world that could well have jumped off the silver screen of yesteryear. The attention to detail taken 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 greys. 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. Yet the action is always 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, you flaunt it. Here, it is the actors themselves that 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. There is no wandering or issue with happy feet. The blocking matches the music, and the character positioning is key to the lighting design by Hargadon and Cassie Hanlin. It all works in sync like a well-oiled machine.
I can’t say enough about the lighting design. It is brilliant in its simplicity. As just one example, there is one scene 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. Again, there is a true commitment to detail. When an actor pays attention to the fact that men and women walked and gestured differently in the 1950’s you know they’ve done their homework. Those little details can turn a good performance into a great performance.
Dean Gallagher plays the central figure of Frank Bigelow. He is a strong leading man and is 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 of the other actors in the play are tasked with creating multiple characters for the audience’s enjoyment, with one of them being their primary character.
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 very imposing in all of 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.
Also in the cast, Heidi Schultz plays up the sexuality in several of her characters, clearly having fun making men’s blood pressure rise. Mike Speller is believable as the head of the business Ms. Foster works at.
Larry Boller is very 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.
ATTENTION TO DETAIL
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 are believable to an audience that is intimately close to the stage can be a challenge on a modest budget. But just as she did with the costumes, Uhlarik Boller hits a homerun 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 artistic director Marge Uharlik Boller, managing director Catie Early, and box office manager Faun Cooper.
Steel Beam Theatre’s jazz-infused thriller D.O.A. by Elizabeth Lovelady, based on the screenplay by Russell Rouse and Clarence Greene, runs through May 14, 2023. The production plays Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 PM and Sundays at 2PM.
Steel Beam Theater is located at 111 W. Main Street, St. Charles on the 2nd floor. There is ample free parking in the area and many fine shops and restaurants to enjoy before the show. So plan a theater date – you deserve it.
Originally published by Northwest Herald/Shaw Media.
Photo credits Sean Hargadon.
Peace. Love. Trust.
Rikki Lee Travolta
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