The Austin Chronicle

ColdTowne Theater's Deja Noir

Double Indemnity provides the structure for an improvised and hilarious riff on those dark crime films out of the past

Reviewed by Shanon Weaver, February 9, 2018, Arts

I first moved to Austin the night of my 21st birthday. Barring a few months in Italy and my recent year in Brooklyn, I've been here ever since. I turned 40 last month.

This was my first ColdTowne Theater show. And that's a shame, because I've clearly been missing out.

You may have noticed an uptick in improv coverage lately, as we work to throw a little more ink toward our unscripted pals. I'm happy we're doing this, though it does expose my shameful lack of knowledge of Austin's improv scene (as I mentioned in my recent review of Golden's Speak No More). I'm discovering that these shows do not always have programs or much information available online, so I've had to dig a bit to put names to faces. I'm glad though, as it gives me a chance to learn about the many talented improvisers in town (being Facebook friends with Kaci Beeler and Roy Janik isn't quite enough. Is it?).

Deja Noir features plenty of these talents. Directed by Sandra Annell Fountain and produced by Katie Moore, the comedy is structured around the 1944 film noir classic Double Indemnity, though knowledge of that film isn't necessary to enjoy the fun and games. Going into detail about the movie wouldn't be beneficial to you, as it would rob you of the twists and turns in the show. Although, it's possible those twists and turns are different every night, so it might be worth your time to at least head over to Wikipedia. The unscripted narrative form allows for the often-hilarious exploration of film noir archetypes. It seems the performers have a basic understanding of what the scenes are, what order they follow, and what objective must be eventually reached; otherwise, it's anything goes. A soft soundtrack of saxophone and bass provides the perfect ambience, along with live piano accompaniment by Natalie Wright.

Joseph Dailey (one of the two performers I recognized) plays the Barton Keyes role. In his tan trenchcoat and fedora, raspy voice, and ever-present cigarette (a convincing e-cig, which, hilariously, all the characters seem to have most of the time), Dailey is the perfect noir character. In fact, every performer is great, committed fully to each other and their often-over-the-top characters, taking risks and having fun. Jill Bailey, Brian Bonnet, Tyler Tipton, and Christian Huey all display a wide range of talent as they savor every slow, jazzy word and action on their way through the scenes. I must throw a special nod to Betsy Anderson for her wonderful character work in multiple roles. There's even a song later in the show, which I assume is improvised as well, by the silky-voiced Megan Sherrod (the other performer I recognized).

Fountain believes that when things get dire, it's a good time to laugh, and that's why she was drawn to the idea of a noir comedy. Though I caught the show on preview night and there may be some changes by now, what I saw was as entertaining as it was interesting. I've never been that great at improv myself, so I have a lot of respect for those who are. Deja Noir is certainly an experiment in unscripted genre storytelling, and though the pacing may not always feel spot-on, watching skilled improvisers explore their characters in such a hilarious fashion made for a worthwhile hour of comedy.

Deja Noir

ColdTowne Theater, 4803 Airport
Through March 10
Running time: 1 hr.

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