The ingredients of a noir detective story include betrayal, redemption and a treacherous dame. Paul Braverman’s No Good Deed, now at the Pear Avenue Theatre in Mountain View, has all of these elements, along with plenty of snappy dialogue and a moody soundtrack that’s as gin-soaked as the play’s heroine.
That would be Frankie Payne (Diane Tasca), who was a rising star of the Boston police department. By the time we meet her in 1962, though, she’s sneaking around an alley in the wee hours of the morning, snapping gotcha-shots of an adulterous husband she’s be paid to track. Unbeknownst to her, a skirmish in the Irish gang wars is about to provide her with more-legitimate employment, as well as a chance for us to see why she was such a force on the force.
Caught in the middle is Milt Stafford (Brian O’Connor), the owner of a local trucking company that’s being shaken down by one of the gangs. Or so Milt wishes—oddly, his trucks keep getting hijacked, but no demands for protection money follow. Detective Lynch (Bill C. Jones) suspects a mole inside Milt’s company and suggests he hire Frankie, who uncovers the traitor in about 10 seconds.
Frankie has the luxury of not being sentimental about anything or anyone, from Milt’s right-hand man, Tom Decker (Lance Fuller), to Milt’s sexy secretary, Janine Levesque (Alika Spencer), who takes a whole lot more from Milt than dictation. Frankie suspects everyone. Despite her nonstop drinking, or perhaps because of it, Frankie is also fearless, unimpressed by killers like Joey Baldatello (Bora Koknar), his boss, Sean Kineen (Troy Johnson), or even his boss, Buddy McLean (Paul Braverman). The bad guys in the Michael Champlin–directed play are great fun, especially Johnson, whose Kineen captures that classic mobster oxymoron: killer morality.
Of course, exposing the mole is the easy part, and like any good noir melodrama, this one features numerous plot twists. Naturally, I won’t give any of those away, but I can say that most of the audience I saw the play with was surprised by what unfolded before us. I liked it, particularly Tasca’s boozy slouch, and the way she would interrupt it at times with flashes of smoldering will. At times, though, I wished the turns in the road had come at us a bit more quickly.
The voice-over narration that begins both acts caused the play to start slow, twice, and the transitions between scenes sometimes dragged, as did the occasionally stilted interactions between the actors. That said, most movies we would nostalgically describe today as film noir had their snoozy moments, too, so perhaps the sometimes-leisurely pace of the production was a bid for historical accuracy.
No Good Deed
8pm, Sunday, 2pm, through Jan. 30
Pear Avenue Theatre, Mountain View; 650.254.1148
Buy Tickets Now