The folks at the Eagle Theatre in Hammonton have been busy. Noir (through Oct. 14), written by and starring Tim Rinehart, is a crazy send-up of the 1940s and 1950s mysteries. I do mean crazy: As hapless Jack Sloan, world's worst detective, Rinehart unleashes magic, slapstick, pratfalls, bottomless purses, human dummies, explosions, and, um, fictional kittens. Eagle cofounders Ted Wioncek III (director) and Ed Corsi (producing director) play the fun for all it's worth. And more.
Noir is also the debut of what the Eagle Theatre folks are calling Theme Park Theater: shows involving the latest in 3D effects (we wore glasses), "semi-cinematic" techniques (Rinehart was live, on our side of the screen, but on the other "side" he crossed into a filmed 3D world where he played at least 10 characters), wind, mist, scent (that burnt-rubber vacuum-cleaner odor!), surround-sound, shaking walls and seats, rain, and bubbles. The Eagle Theatre Innovations Factory takes these tools out of the theme park (where they've been for a while) and into the theater.
All of it got the crowd roaring. Jack shares a shabby office with receptionist Maxine, who sits on a box outside the door and is often mistaken for a homeless person. (Rinehart is really good at playing statuesque women.) Jack is addicted to clichéd noir formulas such as "There's only one truth in this crazy world" or "If I've learned anything tonight." His latest client is Lynette and Constance Mondale, heiresses in search of the man who … well, does it matter?
Jack rushes between the flesh-and-blood world and the impressively overlaid 3D filmic world (screenplay by Wioncek). Much happens across the screen: Jack 4D lights the sisters' 3D ciggies; they pay him 3D cash he pockets in 4D; he and the sisters kiss. Interplay between worlds was good, with some flubs and empty pauses.
"Oh, my God – I don't know what I'm doing!" Jack says. True, that: He's really bad at what he does. He spills fingerprint powder everywhere, tries to vacuum it up and, in the most cartoonish of many cartoonish moments, he sucks up the corners of the screen, the rest follows, and the whole show goes black. But show and silliness resume.
Noir is fun, the technology fascinating; audiences will come much as they go to a theme park: to seek new thrills. But Theme Park Theatre clearly is just getting started. As winning as Rinehart is, Noir stays much in one place. All the characters come to him. Why not get out of the building? Change scene?
As mentioned, we got rained on, earthquaked, vacuumed, windblown, and bubbled, but the audience's 4D world didn't much mix with the 4- and 3D worlds onstage. We sat forward and watched what was happening down there in front of us. Not that it wasn't a lark; it was. But that 3-D screen was a pretty sturdy fourth wall. Meant to be immersive, Noir stopped short of immersing us.
I wonder what Theme Park Theater could do with serious material. (Remember what the Eagle's clever winch machinery did when the Eagle did Little Women earlier this year?) I'm pretty sure the Innovations Factory genius trust will continue to expand the 3D/4D semi-cinematic world in engaging new directions. If there's one thing I learned Sunday afternoon at the Eagle, it's that Noir counts as a good debut.