Sunday, June 22, 2008

All Kinds of Shifty Villains (Kraine Theatre)

BOTTOM LINE: An unexpected and interesting look at film noir (mixed with elements of the circus) that might leave the novice theatre viewer slightly confused.

When you go to the theatre in the East Village, you never really know what to expect. The theatres are often in interesting locations and have a lot of character, which adds to the fun of viewing daring Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway productions. The Kraine Theatre is no exception. It’s a great space on East Fourth Street complete with its own full service bar and cabaret space upstairs. The latest production to set up shop at the Kraine is Robert Attenweiler’s All Kinds of Shifty Villains, produced by Disgraced Productions. It’s a fun filled play that bills itself as a “carnival noir,” which pretty much sums it up.

The play takes elements of film noir and throws in some circus elements for good measure. You read that correctly, circus meets film noir. There is a hero who is seeing things that might or might not be real, a sultry femme fatale with tattoos that are slowly trying to kill her, a crazy conspiracy theorist who is obsessed with bombs, a blind Blues-singing hitman, two drunken southern ex-con brothers complete with their sex-crazed weapons-dealing mother, a pimp, and a mute clown. That’s right, a mute clown.

Now, if all of that seems intriguing to you, then you should see this play. If you felt a little frustrated and/or confused by this description, then you should probably stay far away from this particular production. But if you leave All Kinds of Shifty Villains a little confused, that’s alright. With a running time of only about an hour and half, all of the ridiculous high-jinx are wrapped up before you know it.

I’m going to be honest, I don’t know that I particularly liked this play; but I did have a strangely good time. What started as an idea to do a play that was an homage to the film noir genre developed slowly, with the help of the cast and director Rachel Klein, into this wacky, disjointed piece which doesn’t fully embrace the ridiculousness that is had. I think it might have been more successful if the play had stayed true to its film noir inspiration and stayed clear of the carnival aspects, or abandoned the film noir and gone full throttle circus.

That being said, I did really like the circus tricks. There are some really fine moments of clowning and slight of hand trickery that are truly unexpected. Ms. Klein’s direction is inventive and surprising and her years of training with clowning and trapeze are well utilized in this production. If you go to All Kinds of Shifty Villains expecting the unexpected, then you will be satisfied. While it might not be for everyone, I know that adventurous theatre goers will find fun in this theatrical event, even though they, much like the hero of the play, may leave not fully understanding what they have just seen.

(All Kinds of Shifty Villains plays at the Kraine Theatre, 85 E. 4th Street, until June 28th. Performances are Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are $18 and are available by calling Smarttix at (212) 868-4444 or online at There are Complimentary Rush tickets for Members of Actors Equity if seating is available 15 minutes before show time.)

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