by Lynn on December 7, 2022

in The Passionate Playgoer

Produced by Eldritch Theatre. Closed, Dec. 4, 2022. Played at the Red Sandcastle Theater on Queen St. E. Toronto, Ont.

Created and written by Eric Woolfe

Directed by Dylan Trowbridge

Set and costumes by Melanie McNeill

Puppets by Eric Woolfe

Sound by Verne Good

Lighting by Gareth Crew

Cast: Mairi Babb

Lisa Norton

Eric Woolfe

NOTE: I was only able to see the second to last performance last Saturday night, but this show and its hugely gifted creator, Eric Woolfe and cast, warrant comment.

FULL DISCLOSURE: Eric Woolfe (the artistic director of Eldritch Theatre) arranged that I should have a printed programme rather than have to use the Q            R code, because I have been complaining so much when theatres don’t provide one. This does not constitute a bribe. A bribe would have been a two-scoop cup of Ed’s Ice Cream (next door) and that was not provided. I gladly bought it myself.

The Story. From the website to give a perfect sense of the wildness of the story:

“A weird-noir, hardboiled, cosmic-horror mystery told with sultry actors, terrifying puppets and dark, arcane magic. A warlock running from his past. A woman running from the End of the World.

“Rick Fischmascher is a rumpled private detective and warlock for hire, haunted by the death of his son (Howie), and entrenched in the arcane murder of a troubled opera singer. And he’s the chief suspect. Requiem for a Gumshoe is a weird-noir hardboiled mystery, re-telling of the Norse legend of Ragnarok in the pulpy style of Raymond Chandler infused with the cosmic horror of HP Lovecraft.”

Get the picture?

The Production. Because Eric Woolfe’s wild play suggests a world unbalanced, askew, off-kilter, designer Melanie McNeill has created a set that looks off-kilter too. The black door that leads off stage for some scenes and is actually the bathroom door for the theatre, is ‘framed’ with one white frame that is askew and another black frame behind that that tilts the other way. The result is an ‘optical illusion’ for most, but a dandy optical confusion if one is slightly sight impaired. The effect is the same—unsettle the folks.

Beside the black door is a larger area closed off by an opaque curtain. Behind the curtain is Rick’s office: a simple desk with all sorts of stuff behind it, including Rick (Eric Woolfe). I would not quite describe Rick as rumpled. He wears a fedora, a brown suit and a loosened tie. This suggests a certain care the man takes when he goes to work—a guy who wears a tie.  

I would describe Rick more as a man who is harried and brought down by the world and his worries. His son Howie died by drowning and he is desperate to find his body. His marriage to the sultry Myrna (a wonderful Lisa Norton) has gone bust. He is visited by a frantic Alice (an equally effective Mairi Babb) who is the opera singer frightened for her life and she wants Rick to help her. He’s not impressed that she sings opera. As Rick says to her: “I don’t go in for highbrow caterwauling. I like my music like I like my dames. Hot and rhythmic with plenty of syncopated percussion.” He tells her to come back the next day. Too late. She is found uh, erh, almost unrecognizable—shredded?—the next day. Rick’s interest is piqued at this turn of events so he wants to find her killer.

The events are many and fantastical. And there is magic and there are puppets. Rick does not carry a gun. He carries a magic wand that he uses to punctuate a point or to tap on a cup to magically produced coins or balls or magically make them disappear. Coins appear in his hand and then disappear through his fingers. And how he got that thread to combine with those razor blades he swallowed separately and then brought them out of his mouth, strung together, well, don’t ask. And he does this magic ‘innocuously’ while he is telling the story.

Puppets are manipulated by both Lisa Norton and Mairi Babb either worked on a hand or fitted on the head and manipulated that way. Each puppet is vivid, imaginatively created, angry and compelling. They represent the dark world that Rick and the other characters inhabit.

The Norse legend is evoked and it’s unsettling. A Norse god of sorts promises Rick he will see his son if Rick helps the god with getting something back from the Norse world. It was dense—I might have missed some points—but the Norse god tricked Rick leaving him bereft again.

Joining in the mayhem to guide it all with his own brand of ghoulish invention is director Dylan Trowbridge. He keeps the pace moving quickly. When a character dies it’s in the most gruesome, funny way—bits of guts in the form of shredded red boas fly through the air. Bits of corpse plop on the ground for an added “eeeewwww” effect. Trowbridge keeps the magic, the storytelling and the puppets involvement all in a seamless whole.

At the heart of Requiem for a Gumshoe is Eric Woolfe. Eric Woolfe is a gifted creator of weird work. He is keenly aware that for comedy to be successful—and his play Requiem for a Gumshoe is hilarious—the playing must be absolutely serious. He never tips his hand to show us where the joke is. He lets his dialogue do that. If anything, his Rick is pained and always has a furrowed brow or knitted eye-brows at the strangeness of what he is dealing with.

His dialogue is a mélange of gumshoe slang reminiscent of old detective stories or Damon Runyon. As an example besides the line about how he likes his dames, there is line that many characters are looking for: “The dread Necronomicon of the Mad Arab Abdul Alhazred.” If there is a bit of a concern it is that occasionally the funny idea of a line is repeated perhaps too often and past the point where it’s funny. A bit of trimming might be in order.  

In any case one wonders, where does a brain come up with dialogue and stories like this? What was that man (Eric Woolfe) smoking when he wrote it? Or was he in a place where the air is rare (like Denver) and he was lightheaded by it all, and that got him going? No matter. Eric Woolfe produces works like this, the puppets, the masks and the ideas of a dark, angry world that are also hilarious. His plays are rich in clever, wild story-telling, full of their own dark, anger of a world gone wrong, and yet there are characters like Rick to try and set it right.

Comment. Requiem for a Gumshoe is the second in a trilogy dealing with the apocalypse. I am terrified and longing to see part three.

Produced by Eldritch Theatre.

Closed: Dec. 4, 2022.

Running time: 90 minutes.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 maja December 8, 2022 at 8:10 pm

The Ragnarok element will intrigue Icelanders.. I think Eric should travel with this to Iceland. Wish I’d seen it, but I got sick with a bad cold.


2 Lynn December 8, 2022 at 8:46 pm

Leave it to you to know the Ragnarok legend. I’m sorry about the cold. He will have part three to see. You should contact him. Both of you make things happen!! xox