RED HERRING theatre review

The Amelia Community Theatre presents Michael Hollinger’s detective comedy fable, Red Herring until December 4th at its playhouse located at 207 Cedar Street in downtown Fernandina Beach.
This unusual comedy takes place during one week in 1952 when Ike was President and Washington was preoccupied with frenzied investigations into Communism. The play zips around to locations in Boston, Wisconsin, and the South Pacific. What really makes this play unusual?
You don’t find many plays that have twenty four scenes and six actors who play a total of eighteen roles. Under the direction of Linda McClane, with the assistance of Stage Manage Celeste Amos, they accomplished a very polished performance that ran about two and a half hours with the intermission.
The Dual Critics will not attempt a complete summary of the plot with its many twists and turns. Essentially, the story is that of a rough and tumble FBI agent, Frank Keller (Brian Gilvey) and his equally hard-as-nails girlfriend, policewoman Maggie (Wendy Gilvey), who are chasing spies and murderers while sharing the same apartment.
Kari Rohlwing plays Lynn McCarthy, Senator Joseph McCarthy’s naïve daughter. To her dismay, Lynn learns that her intended husband James (Will Chapman) is a spy for the Soviet Union who is reporting on Washington’s plans for the hydrogen bomb. He explains he is doing this to save humanity, since if both countries have the bomb, neither will use it.
Two veteran actors really showed off their comedic acting chops and were hilarious in multi-roles. Linda Janca is wonderfully animated as Mrs. McCarthy, Mrs. Kravitz and Mrs. Van Nostrand. Graham Thomas was line-perfect as the corpse, but much funnier as Petey, Andrei Borchevsky, Dr. Kasden, and Herbert.
The set design by Kristen Kochanik Garza was certainly a star in this show, featuring a fish pier and a large billboard with a reproduction of a painting by Winslow Homer, among other visual effects. Set pieces were swiftly moved on and off the stage during short blackouts for each of the 24 scenes. Changes were accompanied by music that related to the action in some way and certainly added to the enjoyment of the production. The selection and execution was excellent, by Toni D’Amico and Stan Cottle.
The costume designs by Susan Bell were and faithful to the era. Many, many costumes were required for those eighteen characters, including a charming printed dress topped with a cardigan, garments’ for a priest, wedding dresses, and conservative street wear; both men and women could be found in conservative suits accessorized with hats.
“Red Herring” debuted in 2000 and was the winner of the Barrymore Award for outstanding new play.
Playwright Hollinger has written a witty farce that will remind you of the 1940’s detective fiction of Raymond Chandler. The language is clean, although you will find some double entendres. The scenes all connect together if you pay attention and some are truly hilarious. Especially funny was a scene in a Catholic Church confessional, when the priest tries to hear simultaneous confessions from two parishioners seeking guidance.
Mr. Hollinger describes his play as a fable about marriage and indeed at the end, the three couples united in love, although based on the previous scenes, you might not have predicted this as the outcome.
Kudos to all the actors, who made this complex play seem easy, and who were razor-sharp with well-rehearsed lines and entrances. And kudos also to all the hard-working technical staff who supported them. Don’t miss this unique evening of theatre.