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This curious play about a variety of couples unsuccessfully attempts to fuse romantic comedy with film noir. logo
Daniel Popa, Franny Silverman (on screen), and Brad Love
in Strangers
(© Yi Zhao)
Nastaran Ahmadi's Strangers, now at the Ontological Theatre, is a curious play, as it attempts to cross romantic comedy with film noir classics from the 1940s and 1950s. While these two genres are perhaps not mutually exclusive, this ultimately disappointing piece does not successfully fuse them. Instead, Strangers often feels like a disconcerting evening in front of the TV where the channels switch between Lifetime and Turner Movie Classics at will.

The play focuses on Ella (Jen Taher) and Stefan (Daniel Popa), who married five years ago so that he could obtain his green card. Ella feels that they are now at a point in their relationship where they can celebrate their union with friends, but he's trying to delay it as his feelings for her have waned. Perhaps he's no longer committed to Ella because of his friendship with Bob (Joey Williamson), a self-described one-hit wonder with whom Stefan sometimes writes songs and whom Stefan is also stringing along romantically.

The fact that Stefan could be deported if he and Ella split spurs Bob to call Dan (Brad Love), Stefan's attorney. But instead of getting legal advice, he discovers a soul mate in the woman (Franny Silverman), known only as "The Operator," who answers Dan's calls and who has been having an affair with him. Bob and the Operator are both disappointed in love, and in their fevered conversations on the phone, she imagines the world as a black and white noir movie.

The play stretches to the incredible when Ella meets a Brazilian street artist (Kim Gainer), known only as "Woman." On the spur of the moment, Ella asks that this woman, who's facing deportation, give her painting lessons and also asks her to sing at the marriage celebration. After these two part, Dan also meets the artist and they fall instantly in love, returning to his office for a quick consummation of their passion, which is witnessed by Operator, who then truly spins into spurned femme fatale mode.

The ungainly collision of stories and styles becomes increasingly disorienting in Shoshona Currier's casual staging where the performers often seem to be shuffling from scene to scene. Theoretically, the intersection of these quirky stories could invoke smiles along with a sort of genial warm feeling, but instead, theatregoers can only wonder "What next?" as the production filled with wooden performances, meanders to its bittersweet conclusion.

The most successful aspect of Strangers is Miklos Buk's black and white video where his original work is interspersed with actual clips from films like The Big Sleep. His use of light and camera angles not only invokes the styles of filmmakers from Hollywood's Golden Age, it also feels satisfyingly contemporary and is even sometimes humorous.

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