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Slippery as Sin Expert Comic Thriller That Really Works!

Also see Bob's review of U.S. Drag

Slippery as Sin
Justin Jain, June Ballinger and
Joniece Abbott-Pratt

As the curtain rises, we find ourselves viewing the living room of an isolated island mansion. A stylish, theatrical middle aged man nimbly steps onto the stage, and directly addresses us:

Good evening. Welcome. I am Detective Dorrington—America's foremost private detective. But, of course you already knew that. How lovely to spend the evening with my loyal readers. We are here on this auspicious occasion to celebrate the engagement of my protégé and biographer Harry Cleek. I'm sure you remember our first case together. It was "The Adventure of the White Blade!." It was the summer of 1925, and I was hot on the trail of "The White Duellist, so named because of his unusually pale skin and his sublime fencing skills. The cover illustration depicted me, sword in hand, engaged in a battle to the death atop a suspension bridge! My first published case might also have been my last if it not been for Harry Cleek—as you recall, his timely intervention saved me from the Duellist's clutches. Harry and I went on to face countless master criminals, saving the city from certain destruction time and again. There was the sinister Chu Fang, Hacksaw Goldoni, the Mole and of course ... Diabolicus.

There is lightning accompanied by a loud clap of thunder. Those present this evening, Harry and his lovely fiancée Lolly, along with Randolph Cleek, Harry's rich munitions plant owner father, and Madame Sarah, Lolly's dowager aunt (a quartet soon to be followed by the butler Morrison) enter. Dorrington continues:

Now here we are, you and I. It is 1933 and we are in the home of Madame Sarah Beltham for Harry's engagement party. And although tonight is a celebration, I urge you to be on your guard. I've been in this business long enough to know that even in the most peaceful surroundings, no one is ever completely safe from the hand of evil.

Thus begins David Lee White's accurately self-described "new comic thriller" Slippery as Sin, as successful and satisfying a variation as one could ever hope to see of the satiric stage thrillers which evoke the ever palpable jolts of early film classics, such as those involving a cocaine-addicted English detective and his biographer, haunted houses, charlatans, vampires, and other things that go bump in the night. There is a dose of liberal politics which, while intelligently conceived, amounts to nothing more than an unnecessary minor distraction.

Tonight we will be confronted with a howling thunderstorm, electrical blackouts, a nefarious butler, a shadowy figure prowling in the gardens, a predatory intruder robed and hooded in black, betrayals of trust, nefarious plots concocted by unlikely and duplicitous allies, insanity, violence and death.

And how has David Lee White managed the rare feat of successfully revivifying this hoary genre? Unlike Neil Simon, who failed dreadfully in his screen variation of this genre (Murder By Death), White respects the genre, and, rather than ridiculing and shredding it, he reconstructs it by skillfully and lovingly providing a rich and complex narrative which improves upon most of the plotlines of the most sophisticated and effective straightforward originals. Add White's ear for appropriate and witty dialogue and Adam Immerwahr's stylish direction, and the result is a Slippery as Sin that is both as smooth as silk and sharp as a sword.

Greg Wood as the initially smooth and amiable Dorrington convincingly reveals the detective's troubled soul. Trent Blanton sports a most entertaining Brooklyn accent and mien as the deeply involved butler Morrison. Brian Anthony Williams in an appropriately larger than life performance captures the smarmy amiability, sly needling, and a lot more of munitions man Randolph Cleek. Justin Jain (Harry Cleek) and Joniece Abbott-Pratt (Lolly Beltham) are lively and likeable as the as the engaged ingénues.

June Ballinger delivers a superbly on target, genre realistic, archly hilarious performance as Madame Sarah Beltham. Even factoring in her comedic flourishes, Ballinger's delightful performance stirs memories of such distinguished stage "grand dames" as Edith Evans and Gladys Cooper.

Jeff Van Velsor has designed a large, richly detailed and eminently playable set. The evocative lighting (Paul Kilsdonk), costumes (Robin I. Shane) and sound design (Nick Kourtides) make strong contributions to the production's effectiveness.

Slippery as Sin, only the second play written by David Lee White, is a notable success for Trenton's Passage Theatre Company where White is Associate Artistic Director (June Ballinger is the Artistic Director). However, as difficult as it is to prognosticate a new play's future projectory, I would not be surprised if Slippery as Sin goes on to become a popular, widely produced staple of the American stage. It is certainly worthy.

Slippery as Sin continues performances (Thursday, Friday, Saturday 8 pm/ Sunday 3 pm) through June 3, 2012, at the Passage Theatre Company Mill Hill Playhouse, 205 E. Front St, Trenton, NJ, 08611; Administrative Office: 219 East Hanover Street, Trenton, NJ 08608; (609) 392-0766.

Slippery as Sin by David Lee White; directed by Adam Immerwahr

Lolly Beltham………………….Joniece Abbott-Pratt
Madame Sarah Beltham…………….June Ballinger
Morrison………………………………...Trent Blanton
Harry Cleek………………………………...Justin Jain
Randolph Cleek………………Brian Anthony Wilson
Detective Dorrington…………………….Greg Wood

Photo: Michael Goldstein

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- Bob Rendell

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