Theater Review - Fish story

In the comedy Red Herring, most jokes are hopelessly corny: “Do you know how to make a stiff drink?” “Feed him salty snacks.” At least they have the ring of authenticity, as the action takes place in 1952, and playwright Michael Hollinger offers a painstakingly crafted pastiche of a second-tier comedy from the era. The enthusiastic cast of the production at Theatre in the Square’s Alley Stage only occasionally rises above the material’s frivolous level.

If Neil Simon or Woody Allen had written a hard-boiled mystery spoof while still teenagers, it might resemble Red Herring, which takes place against the backdrop of the McCarthy hearings and H-bomb tests. With a nasal accent, Caroline Masclet plays Maggie, a Boston homicide detective — “a flatfoot in heels” — who learns that a murder victim may have been a spy for the Russkis.

In a parallel plot, Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s daughter Lynn (Megan Hayes) gets engaged to young nuclear scientist James (Chris Moses), only to discover that he’s been passing secrets to the Soviets. Meanwhile, hapless Russian fisherman Andrei (Bill Murphey) and salty landlady Mrs. Kravitz (Sherri Sutton) are entangled in the same scheme, while carrying on an incongruously passionate affair.

Despite constant gags about seafood and the Red Menace, Red Herring is really a play about marriage. Maggie wonders if she should accept the proposal of G-Man boyfriend (Dan Triandiflou), and the other two couples face their own obstacles to tying the knot. Red Herring’s view of marriage proves consistently cynical, with jaundiced jokes comparing wedlock to the Cold War. Perhaps the play would have a lighter touch as a one-act, something too short for its cynicism to show through.

Red Herring plays through Nov. 17 at Theatre in the Square’s Alley Stage, 11 Whitlock Ave. Tues.-Sat. at 8 p.m. Sun. at 7 p.m. $15-$20. 770-422-8369.