Come Light My Cigarette: Blown Out by Reality Before the Fire is Even Lit.
Come Light my Cigarette is framed as a hot new musical with shades of Film Noir sexiness shaded in tones of black and grey. Filtered through a smokey cinematic lens, the show sounds intriguing, and with a small cast of three in an intimate theater space over in Hell’s Kitchen, I was all prepared for something exotic, compelling, and suspenseful. Sadly, as directed by the playwright Arnold L. Cohen, it fails to conjure up any connection to the magical sensual style of the classic cinematic Hollywood crime dramas from the 1940’s or 50’s. It falls in on itself as it tries to blend artificiality and melodrama, with realism and authenticity only to land in a confusing pile of implausiblity.
It’s always a complicated scenario when you have someone like Cohen, who seems to be new at this game as he lacks any bio that I could find, is both the writer and the director. What this show needs more than anything is an alternate vision from a strong-minded director who is able to craft this show into something that is cohesive and musically interesting with some wild creativity. Beginning with a strong editing pen, another pair of eyes and ears would have saved us from the terribly long and irritating telephone answering scene that stalls the show when it only has just begun. The point that was being made by these phone conversations are easily telegraphed to us within the first few minutes, and don’t require the numerous other calls to further establish the despicable nature of this man. The songs, chronicling the attempts of a angry young woman, Vikki (a miscast Erikka Walsh) confronting the two influential and turbulent relationships in her life; her father, Kevin (a bland Michael J. Farina) and her ex-lover, a powerful theater producer, Danielle (a sadly misused Kaye Tuckerman), do have the smoky quality that sound as musically noir-ish as one can imagine, but rarely do they stray far enough from each other in sound, shape, and fury. Mason Griffin, the music director, needs to find some other colors to differentiate one song from another, as they begin to blend in to one another making it harder and harder for us to pay attention to what these characters are trying to convey. His piano playing is exquisite but the music sounds too similar from one moment to the next, lacking drive and fire. The lyrics and the spoken lines are highly artificial and definitely trying for noir poetry, but are too convoluted for us to really get behind.
Walsh (Broadway’s Once) starts the story off with a personal song performed center stage direct to the audience laced with the dramatics of a noir cinematic heroine. Standing in a (too) soft spotlight, her voice is shaky but steadies as she drives forward. Unfortunately, she lacks the ability to enhance each of the many numbers she is given with a unique quality or sound. Her voice and characterization lacks shades of grey and emotional complexities, unlike the more colorful and solid voice of Tuckerman, who plays the theatrical producer and ex-lover with a much smoother voice and presence. Sadly for her, she is saddled with ridiculous lines about her theatrical power that generated giggles from those around me. She also must find a way to disappear into the couch for a long period of time when Vikki sings one song after another that seem to have very little to do with her. This is maybe one of the biggest problems with the staging of this show. The set and costumes, designed by Craig Napoliello, with lighting by Ross Graham, are beautiful in their realistic approach to the apartment of Vikki’s father, Kevin, but this is possibly the biggest misstep in the director’s vision.
This show needs to step away from the standard living room set and play free and wild with a strong stylistic approach. The dialogue, if you can even call it that, between characters doesn’t feel interactive, but strangely artificial. The scenarios are basically cliches of film noir, and to have the characters sing their songs and say their lines to each other in a reality-based location only shines more light on the melodramatic abstractionism and falseness of the set-up. Far too many times, the other character had to stand awkwardly in the scene with nothing to do and no way to interact or participate naturally. Tuckerman was the only one who managed to curl herself up into a non-describe ball on the couch, basically taking herself out and away from the action that was happening around her. This disappearing act maybe the key to a restructuring of this awkward piece.
I kept imagining a show that basically grabbed hold of what it essentially is, a self-referential cabaret, not a realistic living room drama. It may need to discard all the aspects of realism, much like the wildly successful Fosse-inspired musicals, Chicago or even Pippin. Give us the numbers like a shot of bourbon straight up, sung while sitting on a stool in a spotlight, dressed all in seductive black with smoke snaking its way around the stage. Forget about them talking to one another, but just have them speak their melodramatic lines straight to the audience. Griffen would still have to find a way of making the songs unique and a better director would find its cohesive story, but at least the artificiality of the writing would be embraced by the staging. And not seem out of place in the harsh light of living room.