Actor John Middleton has picked up paper and pen and decided he wants to be a playwright. Middleton exercises his gift for droll wit with “Prints,” a new play that grinds truth and fiction into a pulpy noir that knocks off “The Front Page.” Craig Johnson, himself a master of dark and cloaked humor, directs the premiere for Torch Theater at the Minneapolis Theatre Garage.
Middleton uses the notorious 1933 kidnapping of brewing magnate William Hamm to spin a tale full of smart-aleck newspaper reporters, corrupt cops, ditzy molls and venal crooks.
Now, understand, junior, this isn’t history. It’s a lark, a spoof, a put up, a send-up. Get the picture? Half of this stuff never happened and the other half gets cooked up in Middleton’s imagination.
When it sticks to that formula, “Prints” is a hoot. Middleton and Mo Perry play two-bit reporters — Kash and Ginny — who set out to solve the Hamm kidnapping from their putative headquarters in a speakeasy. Why do they care? Because they’re damn good reporters. No, seriously, platinum blonde Summer Hagen wafts into the club as Pearl Hamm, the victim’s loving and daft daughter. The cops are no good, she coos. Might Kash and Ginny bring daddy back? Pretty please?
Meanwhile, Alvin “Creepy” Karpis has Hamm on ice back at the hideout. Zach Curtis is a big bag of hot air, playing the gangster with a shot of dry menace. His savagery to those around him lands with an absurd hilarity. And when a quack hacks up his face in a bungled plastic surgery? It makes me laugh just to remember it.
Karen Wiese Thompson, meanwhile, flounces about her chaise longue as the florid Mrs. Hamm, barely touched that hubby has been nabbed. The dull-witted chief of police, Frank (Sam Landman), is there to dry her alligator tears.
I could go on and tell you the whole story but my editor would just bark at me for wasting words. Suffice to say the details don’t amount to a hill of beans. It’s a lampoon, a squib, a satire, a flippin’ pasquinade! Casey Hoekstra plays a G-man doused in zeal and a doctor soused with liquor. Hagen does double duty in a three-piece suit as J. Edgar Hoover.
At one point, the action moves to a nightclub, where Ari Hoptman plays the emcee. It’s got nothing to do with anything but if it gives Hoptman a chance to do his stand-up shtick, who am I to complain?
Middleton overreaches his ambition with a few scenes at the crooks’ hideout that are meant to humanize these schlubs. Sorry, but this play cannot withstand sincerity. The writer also bites off a chunky piece of absurdity by layering in references between the crooks and popular films. It works a little but don’t get the idea this is art, mister.
John Woskoff’s costumes hit their mark and Lynn Musgrave has dusted off some old 78s for a 1930s soundtrack that fit this satire to a tee.
Was newspapering ever this fun?