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at the Garage Theatre

Everyone at one time or another has probably wanted to kill a writer whose work was so awful that it should never have been forced on an unsuspecting public. In his mystery-satire, alternative poet Steve De France has devised a noir tale that indulges in that fantasy.

As the story begins, Carmine, aka Killer (Cliff Threadgold), muses in passionate tones that he has become disenchanted with being a hired killer, even though it has been his pleasure in the past. His latest gig was taking six very bad poets into the desert and killing each one as he or she tried to impress him with poems about death, then taking on the job of poet himself. From this point on, absurdities pile one upon another. A gumshoe worthy of old Hollywood named Chandler (Matt Anderson) takes over, and clichés build as De France skewers the noir form and poetic pretensions.

The setting, devised by Andrew Deppen, is mysterious and threatening. A huge rolling box takes center stage with a single row of seats on each side. The box functions as a depository for victims or a showcase for characters in scenes. Red-tinted mist swirls about as the world of literature takes a hit.

Playing multiple roles, Ben Hensley, Amy Louise Sebelius, Dennis Hoffman, Nate Wilson, Ed Galvez, and Amber Tribble join Threadgold and Anderson as characters such as Buffy La Rue, Satan, and Mr. Movie. De France's scope is all-encompassing as he derides noted authors and films.

Director Jeff Kriese keeps the pace moving, sometimes so swiftly that it is hard to catch all the allusions. Though the cast is energetic, the characterizations are works in progress, largely because of the youth of the actors. A seemingly cathartic diatribe on the nature of writing, De France's work is a little self-conscious as he crams a whole lot of caricature into the one-hour show. It is a bold endeavor that needs fine-tuning before it finds its voice.

Presented by and at the Garage Theatre, 251 E. 7th St., Long Beach. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m. Sep. 15-Oct. 28. (866) 811-4111.

Reviewed by Melinda Schupmann

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