When people make ‘noir-esque’ movies today, what they mean is that they look like film noir, or the dialogue is similar in rhythm and cadence -- essentially, they’re talking about style. There are a lot of remarkable movies that fall into this category. I was entertained as hell by 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’ and ‘Brick.’ ‘L.A. Confidential’ and ‘The Man Who Wasn’t There’ are both beautifully shot and incredibly evocative of the genre. Here’s the thing, though: when film noir movies were being made, it wasn’t just about the style. That was a huge part of it, yes, but so was moral ambiguity and characters that refuse to inhabit a world in which one can be truly good or purely evil. The movies we now call film noir were about failed redemption, about what it is to be unable or unwilling to assert your own destiny and avoid damnation. They were about the clever banter, certainly, but also about what happens in the air between the words. When I started to think about what contemporary examples we have of that fundamental aspect of the noir tradition, a scene popped into my mind.
At the risk of sounding like an entry in ‘Stuff White People Like,’ I have to say -- I think The Wire might be the best show in the history of television. At the very least, it’s the closest thing to film noir we’ve seen this decade. As a result, it’s been on my mind a lot lately. (Fellow fans can listen for the theme song in ‘Heist Play’.) A lot of factors went in to making The Wire what it was -- talented writers, a devoted, adventurous and mostly unknown cast, a network brave enough to produce a show where the most heroic character is a gay stick-up boy who only robs drug dealers and lives by a code. This is a show you actually have to learn how to watch. You expect it to be one thing, and it’s not. It’s more. It’s a novel. It’s an epic.
I can’t exactly say I’ve stolen things from ‘The Wire’ for ‘Heist’, but it has certainly informed my work. When Katie Canavan and I started talking about Dietrich, we talked about cops who want but aren’t sure how to be more, and I was thinking of poor Beadie Russell. When Josh Davis was working to find how exactly Nick is altered when he’s drinking, Jimmy McNulty was swimming in booze through my head. When I talk, or rhapsodize, really, to my cast about the amazing things Mitch does with language, with such simple words and the great meaning they convey, I think of that scene where D’Angelo Barksdale teaches Bodie and Wallace and Poot about how chess works using the drug trade to communicate the ideas, and the total lack of expression on each of their faces as they begin to talk about the pawns. And when I want to remind myself to think about the remarkable things you can do with great characters and great actors, I think about that amazing scene in season one when McNulty and the Bunk go to investigate a crime scene that was royally botched by the first set of police who looked it over, and figure the whole damn crime out, and talk it through and figure it out, and they only ever say ‘f*ck’ and its many derivatives. Talk about inventiveness.
We’re a few days out from opening now. We’re close enough to opening that I am just now getting around to writing this thing I’ve been so stoked about writing. We’ve found the props (or most of them) and fitted the costumes and taped the floors. We’ve emptied a 12-pack of Old Style and need to empty many many cans of Coors Light in the next few days (for props, I swear). We’ve gotten it done. It’s a terrifying and exhilarating feeling.
It’s been a real privilege to work on ‘Heist Play’. I’ve known many of the people involved for many years, and hope to know the new ones for many more. (Katie Canavan stole my blog idea -- but how many Odes to Starbird or Melton or Stulik can one blog take? Anthem of Hornreich and Dean, perhaps?) We of The Ruckus are so fortunate to be working with such a remarkable cast and crew, and I can’t wait for the world at large to see the remarkable work they’ve been doing. I’m proud and inspired and humbled and wildly entertained. Not a bad deal, if you ask me.
Last but far from least, I’m so lucky to be working elbow to elbow with Mitch Vermeersch again. In a world of style-but-no-substance, Mitch creates these truly original plays that never fail to surprise. In ‘Heist Play’, Mitch gets to convey his love of film noir through Nick, and the passion and fascination he feels is so clearly conveyed that it cant’ help but be contagious. His braveness in breaking rules of structure and in allowing characters to be ugly people who do ugly things has created a genuinely unique work of art that has inspired me to be better and do more, and has done the same for our remarkable cast. I can’t wait for ya’ll to see it.
Back to work. Oh my wow, I hate and love scene changes. But mostly hate. But mostly love.