The advertising campaign for Come Light My Cigarette promises a “suspenseful” evening and features a photo of Erikka Walsh gotten up in Sam Spade trench coat and fedora. Indeed, there’s mystery about this mildly noir-ish musical, written and directed by Arnold L. Cohen; but what’s offstage is more provocative than what’s visible in the auditorium of the Theatre at St. Clement’s.
First, there’s the puzzle of the author-director’s identity. The producers haven’t included Cohen among the biographies in the playbill. The show’s publicists aren’t disclosing any information about him in their press releases or on the website. And a survey of the Internet reveals only that he’s also sole author and director of a one-actor musical, The Death of the Moon, slated to open Off-Broadway in September.
Next, there’s an untraceable producer, MC Theatrical Productions. As with the author, there’s no information in the playbill or press releases about this company or its investors. And an Internet search yields only this factoid: MC Theatrical Productions is the producer of Cohen’s upcoming solo musical.
Come Light My Cigarette is about Vikki, a relentlessly vitriolic prostitute and actress whose heart is an open wound. Valiantly played by Walsh, Vikki is on stage through most of the show, soliloquizing, singing to the audience, and conversing (sometimes in song) with her father, Kevin (Michael J. Farina), and Danielle (Kaye Tuckerman), her ex-lover.
Vikki and Kevin have been estranged for nine years. Having spotted her mother’s obituary in the newspaper, she is dropping by the apartment where she spent her miserable childhood to settle some scores.
“I hate you,” Vikki tells her father, “but I don’t fear you. After all ... I’ve seen it all ... known it all ... had it all.”
She accuses Kevin of preying on young boys and raping her repeatedly from the time she was 11 years old until she fled to the streets at age 16. “I ran,” says Vikki, “far away ... into the night and whatever happened after your touch ... it was heaven!” (For the record, these lines are spoken; they might seem less stilted and more credible were they set to music.)
Vikki suspects Kevin of murdering her mother and, in dialogue possibly inspired by the overly lavish prose of Tennessee Williams’ later plays, demands a confession and an explanation. “You can keep the apartment, the money that I’m entitled to,” she tells him. “I just want to know why. This house where death is a non-paying boarder does not do anything naturally. Death sits upon my shoulder.” (Again, spoken not sung.)
At the performance I attended, an essential sound effect was omitted and, consequently, Kevin’s fate, crystal clear in Cohen’s script, became an accidental mystery to the audience. Suffice it to say, Kevin vanishes after the daughter-father confrontation and isn’t seen again until the curtain call. With Kevin out of the way, the musical heads in an unexpected direction when Danielle, a Broadway producer whom Vikki has jilted, arrives to plead for a rapprochement.
The three performers have pleasant voices and sufficient technique to ensure that the show is more tolerable when they’re singing than when they’re not. The high point of the forgettable score is a Kurt Weill–ish number expressing Danielle’s yearning for Vikki; and Tuckerman gives it her lyric-soprano all. The turgid libretto never gains much velocity, even after Farina, alone on the stage, clears the hurdle of six long, character-establishing phone calls (featuring anti-Semitic cracks, references to priests as pederasts, and other sneering remarks).
Sitting among spectators who were drop-jawed at the vulgarity and structural messiness of this musical, I couldn’t help wondering why the producers (whoever they may be) invested in a sturdy, detailed set, nicely designed by Craig Napoliello, rather than putting the money toward orchestration of the score for a small combo. Music director Mason Griffin does what he can at the piano, but Cohen’s tunes (and the production as a whole) would be enhanced enormously by more complex instrumentation, even if the expense meant performing on a bare stage.
Despite respectable scenic design, earnest performances, and the occasional felicitous melody, Come Light My Cigarette isn’t good enough to be categorized as bad. This bewildering effort belongs in the rarefied company of Moose Murders and Rachael Lily Rosenbloom (And Don’t You Ever Forget It). It’s one of those disasters that the truest theater aficionados pride themselves on catching just in the nick of time.
Come Light My Cigarette plays through Sept. 3 at the Theatre at St. Clement’s (423 W. 46th St.). Evening performances are at 7 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, and at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; matinees are 2 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. For tickets and information, call the box office (212) 279-4200 or visit ticketcentral.com.