The City That Cried Wolf

Reviewer's Rating

You have to at least admire the commitment to the premise. Comedian/actor/playwright Brooks Reeves doggedly mashes up every Grimm’s fairy tale line and character onto every film noir whodunnit trope, sometimes to amusing results. So we get private eye Jack B. Nimble (La Faci) hired by hard-boiled city councilman Humpty Dumpty (Wilie) to tail his night club singer wife, a Jessica Rabbit-ish Little Bo Peep (Spiro) at the Hey Diddle Diddle lounge. “The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter” in this genre, we learned in The Maltese Falcon. We get rapid-fire lines like “Mr. Dumpty, these things are never over easy. But I’ll follow your wife. If your shepherdess is plowing any other fields, you’ll know by the end of the week.”  It’s droll at times, like when in a dark memory, Jack recalls flatly, “That’s right. Jill came tumbling after.”

Soon there’s a murder! Not to give too much away, but we get every permutation of lines about shells, omelettes, yolks. They’re all groaners, and we’re all in on the gag. Eventually we get gritty, urban versions of Little Miss Muffet, Old King Cole, Goldilocks tasting drinks at the bar (“This one’s too weak; this one’s too strong; and this one is just right”), Mother Goose, Chicken Little, and more.

Tremblay’s direction keeps the changes flying fast, cleverly bouncing our focus around the small set well stocked with noirish sight gags. We stop trying to figure out how they manage those rapid costume changes after, oh, maybe the twelfth one, and just enjoy watching the 1940s styles, colorful cut felt, little crowns, and toy animal fur fly.

The cast is equally committed to the enterprise, with able ensemble members fully delivering themselves over to myriad cartoon tough guys, snitches, villains and dolls. But here the bribable French concierge is literally a frog (hmm) and the questionable Doctor Von Quack is truly fowl. You get the idea. Wilie sets the tone with an unforgettably embodied cartoon Dumpty–side-talking, cigar chomping, sweatily anxious. Chou also stands out in her sharply drawn characters. And Davis calls to mind a taller Howard Morris from Your Show of Shows. (YouTube it.)

In fact a lot of it recalls either sketches from Your Show of Shows (which was before my time, too) or maybe one of those special Bugs Bunny episodes with cameo send-ups of Humphrey Bogart, Veronica Lake and other stars of the day. When those older vehicles were parodying film noir detective movies, they were sending up recent pop culture of that time period. A lot of the laughs came from fresh comic observation –oh, yeah, that’s a thing they do, so true!  But here we’re mining a very tired vein now, so what laughs there are come from the incongruous intrusions of the nursery rhyme material, the more cleverly tucked in the better. (What’s on the menu at Horner’s Corner diner? “We got Peas Porridge Hot, Peas Porridge Cold, and Peas Porridge in the Pot nine days old.”) But this is a full-length whodunnit stocked with rapid patter–lots of it–so inevitably the premise runs thin. One feels cast members risk bursting a vessel in the effort to somehow keep landing the material–without a lot of really memorable gags to carry them along. There’s enough here for a very witty twenty-minute sketch. Run-time is 90 minutes without intermission.