Editors' pick

Handbook for Hosts


Editorial Review

'Handbook for Hosts' vignettes inspired by film noir at Fringe Festival

On a hot day there's nothing better you could do than slip into "Handbook for Hosts." It's as cool and refreshing as a sloe gin fizz.

Based on a 1949's Esquire book about party hosting, of all things, the collaboration between Happenstance Theater and Banished? Productions doesn't have much of a plot. Instead, it's a series of intersecting vignettes inspired by film noir, classic jazz and vintage radio. Stiff drinks are drunk quickly, fishnet stockings exposed, secret envelopes exchanged. Sprinkled throughout are hospitality tips, moody love stories and vintage-style commercials. Enhancing the nostalgic, dreamy mood is the song "These Foolish Things," which none of the play's many embittered ex-wives can turn off.

The only reminder of the real world is a pair of bumbling Russian spies (Mark Jaster and Sabrina Mandell, also co-producers) who get their information through Esquire broadcasts. Listed merely as "Femme" and "Gent," they're complemented by Melissa Krodman and Michael Sazonov's dances back-and-forth across a late-night bar.

The jokes are obvious and often intentionally bad. When a man in drag sits down and slowly pulls off a long, lacy glove, you know it's going to hit the woman behind him. The silliness makes it easy to overlook how meticulously crafted this flimsy confection is. The actors mirror each other's movements almost perfectly; they dance and sing beautifully. The low-budget special effects -- created mostly with a white screen -- only add to the sense of whimsy.

There are two more performances at Studio Theatre -- see it before it melts.

-- Rachel Weiner