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“Fateful Encounter” attempts to channel film noir to the stage

“Fateful Encounter”
Firehouse TheaterRuns through Nov. 3503-972-5613
Invariably, as Murphy’s Law dictates, it will rain when you wash your car (particularly this time of year), and a reviewer will come to the show where a lead actor has a family emergency and must be replaced at the last minute – and the sound system goes out.

Therefore I find it difficult, given the circumstances, to be able to review “Fateful Encounter” without first relating the previously mentioned unfortunate circumstances.

Charles Rule stepped in for the missing Dave Harper only two and a half hours before curtain. It was apparent the dynamics had been altered and the cast seemed extremely uncomfortable. Rule filled in admirably, yet there’s only so much he, or anyone, could do with such short notice, the core cast included.

The sound system problem, however, was much less noticeable. Though I was told there were some scenes in the second act that relied heavily on sound and were subsequently dropped from the show, I didn’t notice their absence.And perhaps there’s where the problem lies.

“Fateful Encounter” is billed as a film noir thriller, and justifiably so. It has all the elements of noir film: the affable private eye, the sultry society dame, gangsters and the weasel snitch.

However, the difficulty lies in bringing and translating the conventions of the screen to the stage. We all know what happens when plays are filmed, right? They look like a play that’s been filmed, rather flat and lifeless.

To attempt to bring film to the stage, and keep all the conventions of film, is perhaps admirable, but realistically it simply makes the differences in the mediums all the more apparent.

“Fateful Encounter” is a big, intricate production with a large cast, many scene changes (which tend to undermine the flow of the piece) and intricate sound and special effects. When all goes well, I imagine that this is most impressive.But so much “effect” can’t make up for a plot that falls short of its filmed brethren.

The story itself, which follows private eye Nick Bianco (Duane Hanson) who is framed for the murder of Charlotte Moody (Rachel Bealor), relies too heavily on some contradictory lynch pins. Specifically Bianco goes on his drinking binge because of the $100 he got from a gangster. However, in the opening scene he’s bragging about having purchased a new suit. So, if he can afford a new suit he can afford to drink, and so – why that night, that bar, that girl, that fateful encounter?

Particularly when that “encounter,” (“Let’s shack up.” “Okay?”), lacks any subtlety whatsoever. Besides, why Bianco? Why not any schmuck? The gangsters are worried about covering up a murder, not framing Bianco. Therefore …And for brevity’s sake, the play runs over two hours, there are scenes and characters that, like the scenes so reliant on sound, could realistically be cut and neither the plot nor the audience would suffer.

Once Bianco lands in jail, his best friend, Detective Scott Ferguson (Brian Young), goes on the search for the true killer. The second act simply follows Ferguson from one long session of grilling a character to the next long session.

This is where the art of a good cinematographer would come in handy. Someone to distract us from the long exposition to the fly on the wall, the bead of sweat running down the suspect’s forehead or to the seductive knee of the headstrong secretary, but, alas, this is not the movies, is it?

“Fateful Encounter” runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. with late night showings Saturdays at 10:30 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. through Nov. 3. Performances are at the Portland Actors Conservatory. Tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for seniors.