Doubles Crossed: The Ballad of Rodrigo, the newest play from Funny…Sheesh Productions, is the second play in the Doubles Crossed trilogy. The play is written in the style of film noir crime mysteries of the 1940s and 1950s, but there are modern technologies thrown in like cell phones and online news instead of print. In the original Doubles Crossed, FBI director Irving Tower is murdered while taking down the Dead Street Mob, and his identical twin brother Freddie, who works for the Dead Street Mob, assumes Irving’s identity to go straight. There are also a few other subplots about Flapjack, a police detective, finding his birth mother Sally, and an investigative reporter Jebsie Overcoat helping the police take down the Dead Street Mob, but Freddie assuming Irving’s identity is the biggest plot carry-over from the first play.
In The Ballad of Rodrigo, Freddie (Gregory James Cohan) has come back to town, still posing as Irving, to wrap up some loose ends. Flapjack (James Holden) has helped his mom Sally (Cindy Keiter) open up her own diner, though she doesn’t get much business aside from Freddie, Flapjack, Jebsie (Allen Warnock), and a new girl in town who calls herself Trina (Alison Parks). As Jebsie pokes around the police station for the Dead Street Mob’s now-infamous fake screenplay, which served as the mob’s front of getting into the movies, Trina hangs around Sally’s diner, trying to get closer to Freddie. An overlooked detail from the Dead Street Mob case, however, threatens to destroy everything that was won and bring the Dead Street Mob back to the city under new management.
Tackling film noir on-stage is incredibly challenging considering that the genre has a very particular look to it, and many clues and character revelations are conveyed visually. At its core, theater is a dialogue-driven medium. Film noir dialogue has a specific rhythm to it, which makes it an interesting challenge for playwrights to recreate on-stage, but if the script is off or the actors can’t find the right cadence and speed, it will ring false.
The scenes between Freddie and Trina and between Trina and Rodrigo succeed more often than not. Alison Parks as Trina hits the right tone, flirtatious and a little smoldering when she is with Freddie while still guarding herself and hiding her true intentions. Matthew J. Nichols as Rodrigo, the title character and villain, is channeling a mix of Little Caesar and Walton Goggins, and he brings energy to all his scenes, energy that some of the supporting cast needed. Gregory James Cohan does a fine job balancing Freddie’s guilt for his brother’s death and fear of being found out, and he has good chemistry with Parks as the femme fatale Trina.
Unfortunately, there are a few parts of The Ballad of Rodrigo that just don’t work. First there is the problem of catching up audience members who missed Doubles Crossed while moving the story forward in a meaningful way. There is a lot of dialogue dedicated to exposition and recapping the events and character developments in the previous story which can overload audiences with information or bore them with too much recap. This is a problem with doing a trilogy of plays, especially mob crime thrillers that require a lot of set-up, and playwright Jason S. Grossman had to set up the mystery of The Ballad of Rodrigo and the entirety of Doubles Crossed. The only way I could see avoiding this problem is if Grossman wrote three self-contained plays set in the same city with a few carry-over characters but very little carry-over plot lines. Unlike The Godfather films, an audience member can’t see the original Doubles Crossed before watching The Ballad of Rodrigo, and reading a plot synopsis isn’t quite the same.
Aside from the problems of a sequential series of plays, the scenes at the police station are lacking energy, and the show overall could be shorter and tighter. It also wasn’t clear why the show was set in modern day but still retained the look and dialogue of 1940s and 1950s film noir. The characters don’t need cell phones or modern technology, and the story would make more sense just being set in the 1940s or 1950s.
I admire Jason S. Grossman and director Amber Gallery for trying to recreate film noir on-stage. It is an ambitious idea which combines two things that I love, classic film noir and theater. Despite some good performances by Parks, Nicholas, and Cohan, though, Ballad of Rodrigo needs more energy from the supporting cast and another round of edits to the script.
Doubles Crossed: The Ballad of Rodrigo is playing at the Tada Theater at 15 West 28th Street on the second floor. Tickets are available for $18 and can be purchased online at http://balladofrodrigo.brownpapertickets.com. For more information on Doubles Crossed: The Ballad of Rodrigo, visit their website at www.balladofrodrigo.com.
Remaining performances for Doubles Crossed: The Ballad of Rodrigo are as follows:
June 11th at 8:00 PM
June 12th at 8:00 PM
June 13th at 8:00 PM
June 14th at 7:00 PM
June 15th at 7:00 PM
June 20th at 8:00 PM
June 21st at 9:00 PM
June 22nd at 3:00 PM