If you think a red herring is some kind of a colorful fish, think again. As played out by the cast of South Bend Civic Theatre’s “Red Herring,” under the direction of Craig McNab, it is about two hours worth of solid laughs.
Actually, a “red herring” — dramatically speaking — is a plot turn or character designed specifically to lead an audience towards a false conclusion. In this “Red Herring,” there are too many to be counted.
Just focus on following Boston Detective Maggie Pelletier (Nora Ryan Taylor) and her boyfriend FBI agent Frank Keller (Casey St. Aubin) as each one looks for the killer of an enemy spy.
The era is 1952. The Cold War is at its peak and a certain Wisconsin senator is stirring up the Communist plot. Enter the senator’s daughter, Lynn McCarthy (Tori Abram-Copenhaver), and her soldier fiancé, James Appel (Daniel Grey). He gives her a ring, reveals he is spying for the Russians (but for the good of this country to equal the balance of power!) and asks her to make the final delivery of secret plans for the bomb, as his latest Army orders make it impossible for him to carry out his assignment.
What is a girl to do??
The microfilm plans are hidden inside a box of Velveeta cheese (which Lynn keeps insisting really isn’t cheese) and are to be delivered to Russian spy Andrei Borchevsky (Mark Moriarty). He is renting a room from Mrs. Kravitz (Lucinda Moriarty), who loves him but who is thwarted by his vows to his wife. Also, he has (mistakenly) been reported dead (the murder Maggie and Frank are investigating) on the Ogilvy Kippers pier.
In unraveling the hilariously convoluted plot, the talented performers create many additional characters including a medical examiner, a bridal shop owner, her henpecked hubby, a police photographer, a tough cop, a sympathetic priest and a stoic matron. Each is sharply delineated and never drops out of whatever character he/she is inhabiting at the moment.
The settings designed by designer David Chudzynski make good use of every area in the intimate Warner Theatre. The lighting design by Matt Davidson underscores each scene and mood and the excellent music choices cover every dramatic segue, keeping the action on track, even in the dark.
Beneath the many absurdities, however, lurks a romantic tale — make that three romantic tales — which make this a story of romance as well as mystery and bumblingly hilarious mis-adventures.
There are many high points as the action careens from one couple to the next. My favorite comes in the second act when Maggie (who now for some reason has the Velveeta) comes upon Borchevsky drinking in a seedy waterfront bar. Asked why he takes his vodka one spoonful at a time, he replies — wait for it — he spills too much with a fork!
At the final fade out the couples are, of course, paired correctly and ready to plunge into the stormy sea of matrimony — charted with or without red herrings.
RED HERRING plays through May 11 in the Warner Theatre, 403 N. Main St. For performance dates, times and reservations, call 234-1112 or visit www.sbct.org