Noir Tale

With its standard detective-story plot, Rip Me Open has a wealthy, gorgeous blond who hires a rough-and-tumble private eye to investigate a case where nothing is as it originally appears. But there's a twist: the blond is a man and his hired gumshoe a woman, a world-weary secret shopper who takes occasional snoop jobs on the side for money. It's a clever beginning that turns the detective genre on its head, yet the play fails to build a story of substance around this solid start. As a result, Rip Me Open slows down early before eventually stalling out completely. Desiree Burch plays amateur investigator Lucinda Coolidge with a very believable working-class weariness. When a flamboyant and frustratingly enigmatic Sebastian Rumpford offers to hire her to find out more about his new lover, she initially hesitates; Sebastian seems like too much of a case himself to work for. But he has too much money to take no for an answer, and money is something Lucinda can't say no to.

Lucinda soon discovers that Sebastian's lover, a man who goes by three different names, has a lot to hide. But he isn't the only one; Sebastian himself refuses to disclose to Lucinda all the secrets of his relationship, including a mysterious and deviant act that may cost him his life.

As Sebastian, Michael Cyril Creighton displays natural comedic timing. His lounge-lizard crooning, faux-diva vamping, and prissy whining work in good counterpoint to Burch's straight-faced exasperation. But the straight man/funny man routine takes Rip Me Open only so far.

In addition to acting, Creighton and Burch are credited with co-writing the show with Kyle Jarrow and director Brian Mullin. The problems with their script are myriad. To begin with, they use the same simile-laden speech that is the foundation of clichéd detective stories. Initially hearing a secret shopper use this type of language adds humor to the story. But the language becomes repetitive, and as the show begins to take itself seriously, the continued use of a second-rate Sam Spade style is no longer funny, and the show becomes the same cliché it originally set out to mock.

Rip Me Open becomes more confused, and less a matter of genre manipulation, when it changes tone. It starts out as a lighthearted farce, then shifts into dark comedy before becoming experimental theater and finally ending as some kind of fantasy/tragedy. The Sebastian character borrows heavily from Will & Grace's Karen, someone too rich to understand the common world. He asks questions like "What's a Sizzler?" and remarks, "Oooh, Applebee's! That sounds quaint." Yet moments later he becomes an ashamed man, tortured by his perversion as he attempts to elicit pathos from Lucinda (and the audience) by explaining how special his lover makes him feel.

Eventually, Lucinda discovers that his secret sexual act is that his lover disembowels him during sex on a regular basis. How does Sebastian consistently survive such an ordeal? Were there trips to the emergency room? What about recovery time? The playwrights apparently felt it was unneccesary to consider such questions.

Witnessing Sebastian's torture prompts Lucinda to strangle Sebastian's lover to death and burn his house down. The next morning, Lucinda and Sebastian meet in a Denny's to discuss the darkness of their souls over pancakes. Are Sebastian and Lucinda the least bit worried that they might be imprisoned for the previous night's occurrences? Another question that the playwrights fail to address. The ridiculous nature of these events makes the script unbelievable, and the playwrights' inability to create a reality for these events to take place in makes the play nearly unwatchable.

The idea that Lucinda has seen too much of man's evil nature during her stint as a secret shopper is funny. The idea of a woman as a hard-nosed private dick and a man as her client is inspired. But the constant referential jokes (like the Applebee's line), potty humor, and vulgarity drag the show's high concept below lowbrow. The play's creators seem to be attempting to push the boundaries, but just what boundaries do they think they are pushing?

Creighton, Jarrow, Mullin, and Burch neglected the careful construction and emotional grounding that allow Sam Shepard's fantasy worlds and David Lynch's bizzare tales to appeal to their audiences in challenging, nonlinear ways. The foursome's dialogue parrots Raymond Chandler's language without adding any new perspective to it. Rip Me Open bills itself as "drawing on influences ranging from classic film noir to Dennis Cooper and Haruki Murakami," but its execution exposes it as a shallow and immature imitation of the works its writers admire.

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