Gus Scharr and K Tanzerin Dance, My Darling, Dance(Photo: Dixie Sheridan)
Gus Scharr and K Tanzer
in Dance, My Darling, Dance
(Photo: Dixie Sheridan)
Once a year or so, the members of Collision Theory select an interesting topic--say, alien abduction, or mental illness--and spend months conducting interviews and doing extensive research. Then they take what they've learned and create a theater piece out of it.

The company's latest project is called
Dance, My Darling, Dance
; it is a movement-based meditation on film noir and the heady subjects that surround it, from sex to violence to the finer points of lighting a cigarette. Dance is a highly stylized theatrical experience, often abstract, and very much focused on movement.

The first 10 or 15 minutes of the piece are dedicated to deconstructing the elements of the film noir genre. Mysterious men in overcoats and hats pull out pistols, sexy women in red dresses light cigarettes and apply lipstick; they smack each other, they kiss each other, they shoot each other dead. In the background, a menacing underscore is intermittently enlivened by big band tunes.

Once we're sufficiently in the mood, the story begins. Private Eye Sam Steele is haunted by the memory of his lady love, Ann Darling. She's gone missing, presumed dead, and Sam is the prime suspect. He evades arrest while trying to solve the mystery himself. Is Ann really dead? If so, who killed her, and why?

The seven actors (three guys and four dolls) have ample room to move in the cavernous wooden playing space at the Ohio Theatre. Designer Shannon Corbin Rednour brings us back to the 1940s with the help of an eerie cityscape backdrop and a bevy of props (Sam's desk, an old radio, Derringer pistols). Shelley Norton's costumes and Bo Bell's music and sound design also do much to create the right atmosphere, which is not only noirish but downright spooky at times.

As Sam Steele, Tsuyoshi Kondo is a hardened character who appears equally capable of obsessive love and cold-blooded murder. K Tanzer, the show's co-choreographer (with Stephanie Gilman), plays Lili Blue, the woman who helps Sam with his private investigation. She has the "broad" character nailed down flat--she's tall, beautiful, and displays all of the inflections and mannerisms that evoke this famously stereotypical type.

Dance, My Darling, Dance is as urgent and mysterious as the best thrillers of the '30s and '40s, and--even more so than those old movies--the play is driven as much by style as by story. Through the repetition and alteration of typically noirish actions, exchanges, and dialogue, the elements of the genre are laid out. These exercises are amusing in some instances and chilling in others; film noir buffs will probably be intrigued, though it isn't likely that they will discover anything new from this play.

For all of their research and interviewing, it doesn't seem that the Collision Theory people have come up with any new insights into the genre. But the company does succeed at what it does best, creating the kind of unique sensory experience that is its hallmark.