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LA Theater Review

Block Nine

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If it's style you're lookin' for, the dames have got it in spades. Dressed to kill in high fashion, the ladies who inhabit the all-female version of "Block Nine" (an all-male version plays here in rep) do estrogen-filled, spoofed-up gangster noir proud. If only there was a little more substance under that style.

Tom Stanczyk's wandering homage to 1930s crime films begins with a nightmare. Stalwart copper Ruth (Julie Weidmann) is awakened by her partner Mary (Cheryl Huggins), who's excited and anxious about going undercover to find a mob boss by posing as a prisoner in the infamous—cue music, please—Block Nine. Director Emilie Beck gives us fantastic images right up front, and it's looking better and better as we infiltrate the crime ring. We meet hard-boiled leader Cody (Dylan Jones); gun-toting goons Putty and Nails (Marisa O'Brien and Nikki McCauley); fresh-faced wannabe thug Jenny Bell (Amy French); Cody's ill-fated, beautiful plaything, Margaux (Kerry Carney); and the menacing Lips (Maya Parish), in the slammer after a heist gone wrong.

Beck and her broads have a great time playing with the gimmick at hand: the cast has a terrific hold of the period affect and dialogue; power plays and steamy, same-sex sexuality are palpable; and there are moments of outright hilarity (the mousy French, in particular, is a showstopper). But while all the pieces are in place—Joel Daavid's lighting showcasing them beautifully—Stanczyk's confused parody always seems to be searching for an inner truth that's not there. So, in the end, this feels a bit like one gussied-up joke stretched way too thin.

Presented by the Elephant Theatre Company at the Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, Hollywood. Aug. 14–Sept. 20. Thu.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun. 2 and 7 p.m. (323) 960-4410. www.plays411.com/blocknine.

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