Vertigo Theatre’s ‘The Thin Man’ features a strong partnership among chaotic plotline

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The Thin Man was a 1934 film starring William Powell and Myrna Loy as powerhouse couple Nick and Nora. The film was based on the novel of the same name by Dashiell Hammett. Vertigo Theatre commissioned Lucia Frangione to adapt the script for stage and the play enjoyed its world premiere on Calgary’s stage last week. It is a co-production with Persephone Theatre and though can be hard to follow at times, The Thin Man is a solid production with a complex and strong relationship front and centre, that keeps it together.

The play tells of Nick Charles (Curt McKinstry) and Nora Charles (Nadien Chu) who are hosting a party. Nick is hiding from what he describes as the terrible guests. In walks his friend from his detective days, lawyer Herbert Macauley (Graham Percy) and they seem to spend most of their time together drinking. Soon the party is interrupted by Dorothy Wynant (Anna Mazurik) who says that she shot her father’s secretary, Julia Wolf. The paper just reported of the murder and Wolf was Clyde Wynant’s secretary, found shot dead. Nick gets pulled into his past and the case, though he tries to refuse to solve the mystery. Suspects involve Clyde himself, his ex-wife Marion (Katherine Fadum) and new husband Christien (Aaron Hursh), and his son Gilbert (Christopher Duthie). Then there is a character named Shep Morelli (Hursh), Studsy (Kent Allen) and Lieutenant Guild (Allen) is also thrown in to investigate the case.

It’s all a bit hard to keep straight as the first half is mostly exposition and the characters who are murdered are names offstage. Nora is new to the story being told too, so her character acts as a device to clarify who people are, but it’s still a lot of fast conversation between drinks. The thing that holds the plot together is the relationship between Nick and Nora. They both went into their marriage with their eyes wide open, Nora being a rich Asian heiress and Nick having been familiar with more than one woman prior to their nuptuals. Their interplay and quick wit is fun and carries the story. Originally in the films Myrna Low made a name for herself as a white woman playing an Asian woman or ‘yellow face’ and it’s therefore nice to see Chu in this role. The fact that Nick and Nora are in an interracial marriage is brought up more than once.

Scott Reid’s set design is stunning, making the opening with shadows and doors all the more fun. Nick and Nora’s place is sophisticated and is reflected in the decor. Anton de Groot’s lighting design makes use of shadow play throughout the production and Gilles Zolty’s composition sets the mood when things get tense.

There is a light airiness to this production as Nora is always saying she likes to see Nick ‘detectiving’, so the play doesn’t really present too much danger. The opening to the second half of the production is a musical number by Fadum and features most of the men with the exception of McKinstry in a speakeasy bar. It seems to come out of left field, and though it’s funny, it’s a awkward choice for director Courtenay Dobbie to include it.

The dynamic between McKinstry and Chu is wonderful and Percy is a regular charmer as Maccauley. Fadum is strong as the damsel in distress who tries to distract Nick, and she is annoying and persistent. Duthie is awkward and peculiar as Gilbert but doesn’t go over the top which is refreshing as that act can get stale really quickly. Hursh and Allen are strong as the multiple characters but it’s hard to keep track of everyone.

Vertigo Mystery Theatre’s production of The Thin Man is a confusing production, but the couple at the centre manages to keep our attention.

The Thin Man runs until October 14th. More information is available online.

Photo Credit: Photographer Trudie Lee, Set by Scott Reid, Costumes by Deitra Kalyn, Lighting by Anton De Groot.

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