Their names — and the roles they played — are legendary in film-buff circles: Doris Dowling, Jane Greer, Lizabeth Scott, Barbara Stanwyck, Ava Gardner, Gene Tierney and Lana Turner.
These actresses all took turns at playing the femme fatale in 1940s film noir.
Lunchbox Theatre’s current offering, Scarlet Woman, plays on the classic stereotype these women made famous.
“It uses all the iconic things we know about femme fatales, all those women who smoked and could be dangerous killers,” says director Mark Bellamy.
Bellamy is returning to his roots with this production — having served as Vertigo Mystery Theatre’s artistic director for a number of years, it’s a genre he feels particularly at home with.
He resigned from that post at the end of last season to pursue a freelance career, and he’s been fully booked ever since.
“I haven’t had any downtime since Vertigo. It’s been really busy. It’s been wonderful,” he says.
Written by Matthew Wells, Lunchbox’s staging of Scarlet Woman marks the first, fully produced Canadian production of the show, aside from its 2011 Fringe tour, where Bellamy first came across it.
“It was really fun and funny,” Bellamy recalls, adding that with its 50-minute run time, he thought it a perfect fit for Lunchbox.
“You can tell Matthew Wells watched a ton of film noir to absorb the style and ambiance of it, as it’s very much written in that cinematic idiom. There are fast-talking dames and all kinds of great hyperbole,” he says. “It’s a loving spoof of all of these great films.... Everything is done with a wink to the audience.”
Scarlet Woman features two actors: Julie Orton and Myla Southward, each of whom plays about 10 different characters throughout the show.
Bellamy says that despite Scarlet Woman’s comic touch, it has “a complex little plot.”
“There are more twists and turns in this show than I have ever worked on. Wells wrote the most complicated plot a person could make, which becomes part of the humour,” he says.
But Bellamy is loath to reveal much of that plot. All he’ll say is that the mystery revolves around a stolen fortune, multiple mistaken identities and a dead tycoon.
Add some crooked lawyers, some gangsters, some atmospheric lighting with plenty of shadows and, of course, a femme fatale or two, and you’ve got Scarlet Woman.
Bellamy says one–act murder mysteries are fairly uncommon and are “a bit tricky” to pull off.
“Normally, in a mystery play, you need an act one cliffhanger that isn’t going to be in a one-act play,” he explains.
That said, Bellamy adds, even large theatre companies are starting to incorporate shorter plays into their season lineups, plays that run without an intermission.
“We’re trending away from the two–act structure, and one-acts are becoming a little more common,” he says.