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“Pulp” opens Williamston Theatre’s 11th season, and it is the seventh Zettelmaier world premiere the group has staged. The play, set in Los Angeles in the 1930s, starts out as a typical whodunit detective story. A literary agent is brutally murdered, and his four remaining clients are suspects. Romance writer Desiree St. Clair (Alysia Kolascz) hires Frank Ellery (John Lepard), a stereotypical jaded, washed-up and burned-out private dick, to investigate.
The investigation includes the mandatory plot twists and untrustworthy characters, but it soon transcends to the meta as conventions from pulp novels seep into the storyline. These fantastical twists are goofy, but they work because they are intentional.
There is a love affair here — besides the on stage romance between Desiree and Frank. Zettelmaier and Williamston Theatre are obviously smitten with each other, and it often seems that Zettelmaier has some of Williamston’s key actors in mind when he writes. Lepard was designed to play a character like Ellery, from his tall, lanky suit-hanger body to his wry, deadpan delivery. The chiseled features don’t hurt, either.
Aral Gribble, a veteran of previous Zettelmaier premieres, has the physicality and willingness to be self-deprecating as bumbling sci-fi writer Bradley Rayburn. As the play gets pulpier and pulpier, Gribble has the opportunity to stretch his role in an unexpected funny — yet poignant —way.
As horror writer R.A. Lyncroft, Mark Colson takes full advantage of his darkly resonant voice, enhancing the character’s creepy demeanor. Colson’s sunken eyes and gaunt figure reinforce the image of a man hallowed out by horrors both experienced and imagined. While the play has many humorous moments, few of them arise from this specter.
Williamston Theatre rarely disappoints when it comes to production values, and “Pulp” is no exception. Shannon Schweitzer’s lighting design is amazing, casting long shadows that enhance the intrigue and create a 1930s film noir atmosphere. The minimalist props are utilized creatively, and scene changes are even more creative. The stage crew, costumed as gumshoes, in trench coats and fedoras, interacts with the cast with knowing winks and nods.
The story is great fun, and the production values create an immersive environment that makes “Pulp” a tasty treat perfectly suited for the month of Halloween.
Williamston Theatre Through Oct. 23 8 p.m. Thursday-Friday; 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday $25 Thursday/$30 Friday- Saturday evening/$27 matinee/$10 students/seniors and military $2 discount Williamston Theatre 122 S. Putnam St., Williamston (517) 655- 7469, williamstontheatre.org