Don’t be fooled

“Red Herring” at Sinclair

By Joyell Nevins

Photo: Jessica Zula and Kevin Manley in “Red Herring”

Name three hysterical film noirs that you remember. Can’t do it? Then expand your exposure and come see the Sinclair Theatre Department perform “Red Herring.”

The play by Michael Hollinger takes the film noir style of the 1940s (think “The Maltese Falcon” or “Gaslight”) and hams it up to make a comedy of love, murder and espionage.

“The audience gets the joke, but the characters aren’t in on it,” said Nelson Sheeley, director and adjunct Sinclair faculty member. “It’s a very funny play.”

The farce first registered on Sinclair’s radar when several faculty members saw it performed at a theatre conference. They offered it as a suggestion when the theatre department was laying out its upcoming seasons.

“They throw all these plays out, everyone grabs a bunch and starts reading,” Sheeley explained of the process. “We all liked [‘Red Herring’].”

Since a majority of Sinclair students are only there for two years, Sheeley said the theatre department tries to incorporate a lot of variety into the seasons to expose the students to several genres. The department had not performed a mystery in a while, and “Red Herring’s” mix of comedy and clues made it a worthy showstopper.

The play is set in 1952. America was on the verge of the H-bomb, Dwight Eisenhower was on the campaign trail and I Love Lucy was in its heyday. The story starts with Senator Joe McCarthy’s daughter becoming engaged to a Soviet spy, and Boston detective Maggie Pelletier’s quest to find out who dumped the dead guy in the Harbor –

before she loses out on a honeymoon in Havana. Three love stories, a murder mystery and a nuclear espionage plot all wind around each other in this “blunt-nosed, sharp-eyed look at love and tying (and untying, and retying) the knot,” according to the Dramatists Play Service.

“I think this show is hilarious,” actor Kevin Manley said. “It has so many different styles of comedy and characters that just about anyone can find themselves enjoying the show.”

Even Sheeley noted that the cast is still coming up with clever innuendos and comedic insights. Along with Manley, the cast includes Jessica Zula, David Brandt, Kira Miller, Haley Penchoff, Skyler McNeely, Jesse MaGill and Erin Waldon.

“This cast is fantastic!” Manley said. “It’s filled with talented, hard-working people who are very respectful and helpful in every way. It’s been a real privilege working with them for sure.”

There are only eight performers – every person except one changes characters throughout the show. From a physicist spy to an elderly landlady to a philosophical fisherman, the characters are as varied as the cast itself.

One of those actors plays an English scientist, Russian spy and a dead body – depending on the scene. Manley admitted the costume changes on the quick can be a hassle, but the different characters keep it interesting for the cast.

“It’s actually a lot of fun switching into a different character,” Manley said. “It’s not very hard for me to switch personalities – if you understand the characters, then hopping into their shoes doesn’t take much time.”

Just as the characters change often, so does the set. Written more like a television show or a movie, Sheeley explained the play changes scenes and locations on a regular basis.

“The set designer has come up with a really clever and elegant way to get around that,” Sheeley said.

The designer has also nodded to the film noir style of the play through the colors of the set. The entire set is done in tones of black, white and gray. Only the props that drive the story are put in color (so pay attention if you want to solve the mystery!).

Sinclair Theatre has also set it up for “Red Herring” to work as a date night. Dinner and a Show will be served beginning at 5:30 p.m. for the Thursday, Feb. 12 performance. A pre-Valentine’s day spaghetti buffet (spaghetti with meat sauce, salad, breadsticks and dessert bar) will be offered at an additional cost of $10 per person. Additional reservations are required for the dinner.

The theatre department has also partnered with Sinclair’s American Sign Language department to provide sign language interpretation for the Feb. 8 and Feb. 12 performances. Sinclair student interpreters are Chelsey Presson, Erica Smith and Amy Ferguson (understudy).

“Red Herring” will be performed Fridays, Feb. 6 and 13 at 8 p.m.; Saturdays, Feb. 7 and 14 at 8 p.m.; and Sunday Feb. 8 at 2 p.m. at Blair Hall Theatre in building 2 of Sinclair’s downtown Dayton campus, 444 W. Third St. Prices are $18 for adults and $15 for students, seniors, and Sinclair employees. No children under six will be admitted to the performance. For tickets, please visit For more information, please email or leave a message at 937.512.2808.

Reach DCP freelance writer Joyell Nevins at

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Joyell believes in the power of the written word, a good cup of coffee, and sometimes, the need for a hug (please, no Tommy Boy references). Follow her on her blog “Small World, Big God” at or reach her at

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