by Molly Walsh
In the Gutter, written by John Morogiello, is a modern retelling of a classic film noir narrative. With all the trimmings of mystery and mayhem, including mid-Atlantic accents, fast-paced humor, and a proposed murder for hire, this play is shown through a fresh lens by being set in the present day.
In the Gutter is described by cast and crew as a fun escape that will open at OLT June 2 at 7:25 pm. And after many weeks of rehearsal and many laughs along the way, cast and crew are looking forward to introducing this production to a West Coast audience.
Kendra Malm is an experienced director and is also serving double duty as Olympia Little Theatre’s president and artistic director. And as the director for OLT’s production of In the Gutter Malm looks forward to showcasing this more recent script from Morogiello. In the Gutter was written by Morogiello to pass the time during the COVID-19 pandemic, and OLT’s run will be only the second production of the play.
Malm has familiarity with previous Morogiello scripts, including The Consul, The Tramp, and America’s Sweetheart, which was produced by OLT in 2019. When Morogiello offered the script of In the Gutter to Malm for production, Malm was especially struck by the play’s humor.
“We’re really excited to be doing something no one’s ever seen before,” said Malm. “And the play itself is a noir comedy. So, it’s kind of a take-off on all of the film noir movies that you would have seen in the ‘40s and the ‘50s, you know, set in the present day.”
The play centers around Chad, a door-to-door gutter salesman who encounters Fiona, a potential customer with an unusual proposal. Fiona will purchase Chad’s gutters, on the condition that he murders her husband.
Malm said different classic film noir themes are woven throughout the play, from the plot to the language of the script. And the combination of noir and comedy helped Malm to develop a more “play it straight” approach for the production.
Over the course of rehearsals, the cast bonded through their love for theater and the script. Travis Tingvall as Chad has had a longtime goal of being part of a production at Olympia Little Theater. Tingvall was also attracted to the play’s hurried noir-style language that reminded him of classic cinema.
Becki Pérez as Fiona has worked with Malm on previous productions and was excited to work on a show and a character that was outside her usual style.
Jeff Ryser (Bill, Cop) is based out of the Aberdeen area but was interested in joining a theater production in Olympia. When reading the script, Ryser said he was drawn to playing one of the show’s older characters with a more “cantankerous” persona.
“I said, I don’t even have to act. Let’s go for it,” joked Ryser.
Michelle Gipson (Mrs. Cooper, Detective) was interested in the idea of a script that was written during the COVID-19 pandemic. And as Gipson’s first show with OLT, she was also attracted to the script’s humor.
As the production progressed, Malm collaborated with the cast, working with each actor to bring the characters to life on stage. Malm said the rehearsal process has been smooth, with the cast sharing a vision for how to approach their respective characters, making it one of the easier directing jobs of Malm’s career.
“I’m not a director that has a very specific idea of what I want the entire production to be,” said Malm. “I want to see what my actors can bring to it, and then adjust their characters, adjust their performances, to bring out the best in them.”
Each cast member has also been learning to play off the energy of their co-stars. In particular, Gipson and Ryser have been working on their approach to playing multiple characters, while also developing a rapport with other onstage players.
For Pérez, it’s been especially helpful to be a part of a supportive cast, especially as she plays a character that is so distant from her own personality.
“For me, the character Fiona is very different from who I am as a person,” said Pérez. “She’s a lot more out there, a lot more flirtatious. I’m a little bit more reserved, so this is a little bit of a push. So it’s been fun trying to find that and then find that in myself too, some more of that confidence.”
Tingvall has had fun translating the script to the stage. In preparation for the role of Chad, Tingvall watched a range of film noir film clips from the 1940s, and has been working on adopting a mid-Atlantic accent for the role, a style of speech that was commonplace in classic noir films.
“That’s kind of what I tried to do with this character, is find that, find the rhythms of the speaking and kind of, the character came from there,” said Tingvall.
As the show premieres, the community may be drawn to the show for laughs, a fun escape and according to the cast, the promise of an adult puppet show during the production. Malm said that to truly be storytellers on stage, it will be important to have the energy of an audience that the cast can play off of throughout the show’s run.
And with comedic elements that tie old-school cinema with the modern-day, In the Gutter could appeal to a wide range of theatergoers. Cast and crew describe the production as “no experience required” and suitable for both theater lovers and those who are new to live performance.
“In the Gutter” by John Morogiello
7:25 p.m. June 2, 3, 9, 10, 15, 16, 17
1:55 p.m. June 4, 11, 18
Olympia Little Theatre
1925 Miller Ave NE Olympia, WA 98506
Photos by Molly Walsh.