It was a Sunday evening in Los Angeles. Dusk. The possibilities were as endless as a leggy blonde teetering at the edge of a barstool. I hit the streets. A gnawing ache in the pit of my stomach churned queasily. My throat was as dry as the Nevada desert as I cruised down Hollywood Boulevard in search of something, a drink, a cigarette, a hot dame cooling her heels on the fading vestiges of her wasted youth. The street curved like a barb, shooting me onto Sunset, west, another boulevard of broken dreams pulsating with fresh souls drawn to the Inferno like moths to a flame. The burning desire for anything novel like a book consumed me.
Salvation appeared in the City of Angels. There…almost imperceptible, a sign that beckoned patrons 50 years ago into its 16th century inspired tavern. Those first flies gone the way of spoiled fruit. Now, it was my turn. I eased up to the curb. The El Cid, crumbling in the same glassy-eyed stubborn refusal of a small town prom queen waiting for her big break that would never come; I penetrated her cavernous stairwell, tripping down, past the Spanish tiled roofs, the winking cherubs and ivy. I flashed my ID and finished my descent. The courtyard spilled open in its verdant, yet vintage space. I spied an ashtray, the cheap plastic kind, a triangular trough full of butts and smoldering embers. I sat down and lit up. It isn’t often one finds a quiet corner of hell to live well within.
A fresh faced quail suggested their house specialty, sangria. I loaded up with a liter, tossed the bird a card and like breadcrumbs to a pigeon she cooed. The place smelled of sweat, lipstick and roses. El Cid…a name synonymous with Flamenco, the dance of passion and hot-blooded lovers, but there would be no love for me, a typical story, I inquired as to the evening’s diversion. The raven with eyes that could melt rocks inside a highball informed me that indeed there would be a foray into otherwise unknown territory. A gaggle of thespians from the hard streets of whizzing bullets and harsh winters were to hit the boards with a “Night of Noir.” Chicago, a city known for its deep-dish pizza and even deeper-dish performers intrigued my flaccid confidence as I steeled myself into the inner sanctum milling about with third dates eagerly anticipating its requisite end. I took my spot at the end of a long, wooden table dimly lit by red votives with a gloomy countenance like a five o’clock shadow at six in the morning.
The stage was curtained off with the pale glow of a seemingly innocuous name of this ragtag troupe: Captured Aural Phantasy Theater. A name that scorched my sangria-addled brain with its veiled threat, it’s seductive tease, a twist and turn on a yarn called fantasy and its surety that would rattle the gates of Dionysus. I was a goner, I tell you. Defunct in my dreary beat as a theater critic in a town that treats the sacred art like a harlot, a trollup, a whore, a chippie, a hussy, a Jezebel, minx, slut, floozie, tramp, a call girl with a name like Suzy. I was in need of deliverance in the form of a supper club whose hash wasn’t days old and lukewarm. Catharsis, that’s what it is, or comedy might shake me from my despondent mood draped over me like a trench coat on a sunny day in Miami.
The curtains opened to reveal a motley crew dressed in the garb of a cast trapped inside a sputtering flick at the nickelodeon. All they needed was stale popcorn inside a greasy paper cup. There were seven of ‘em, seven, a lucky number and Lady Fortune was casting her spell on me as the show opened with a sensual crooning melody by a blonde who could freeze fire with the blush of her violet hued glim. Following this temptress siren as deep as pot-holed puddles, a few brim-hatted, slack slovenly and cleavage-clinging lookers stood before mikes, reviving the kind of era that saw Orson Welles call out doom to an alien invasion in a war of the worlds. A time of a single gunshot in a narrow alley filled with scrounging black cats searching out a meal. A time when Humphrey Bogart as a leading man was still a man and leading ladies were still ladies…it was a time of feigned innocence where the coppers knew the beat and the killers knew the lam.
An intoxicating mix of pre-Lichtenstein comic book stories filled the silver screen as the players read from handheld scripts with only one intonation ricocheting like a lone bullet seeking its incidental victim—MURDER! Let me say it again—MURDER! Crime fighting never seemed so vivid, raising memories of being once six, huddled underneath a blanket, armed with a flashlight long after bedtime hour, turning the thin pages colored with good guys chasing the bad guys. Oh, sure, these players occasionally flubbed their lines, laughed it off and made strange accents sound perfectly chaste but as supper club theatre (spelled in the old-school nod like a schoolmarm with a thick ruler and a penchant for pain), this was an evening that fueled me, resuscitated me when I was a mere flat line on the gurney heading down to the morgue. Lazarus didn’t rise as well as I did as the troupe parodied and played on the theme of Noir. “You Know You’re in a Noir Film...” was easily their best and most exacting act. They had some goodies thrown in like party favors in a piñata and for those who enjoy hunting like a PI on the heels of a wily fugitive—these retrospective rats even have a Scavenger Hunt for audience members to join and take home booty for a score.
Maybe it was the sangria or the red head with a kisser that I just wanted to drink down like a chaser after a long night of boozing over cards. It was a “Night of Noir” as cheesy and tasty as bad brie on a saltine cracker. These players are making a monthly go at it down in the El Cid. I suggest you find your sordid way down the boulevards to this rustic place that houses an eclectic group with a penchant for horror, comic books, live staged radio and terrors that will keep you awake at night like the flickering neon glow of a No Vacancy sign outside a motel on the side of a two-lane highway that leads to nowhere. No sense in keeping it LA Confidential. Like Fred Otash, I’m slipping you the skinny on a dirty rag that stinks of chloroform and is so hard-boiled you can chip a tooth on it.
Captured Aural Phantasy Theater
Appearing monthly at the El Cid
4212 W. Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90029
7:30PM doors open and dinner seating begins
8:30PM Show starts
Tickets: $10.00 at the door
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