Michael J. Farina and Erikka Walsh in ‘Come Light My Cigarette.’
By Ryan Leeds
Come Light My Cigarette is so appallingly bad that it’s difficult to know where to begin with its excoriation. Even the dippy tagline is misleading: “There’s smoke, and fire.” There is neither. There are, however, more than enough cringe worthy lines to make you wonder how this piece came to fruition in the first place.
This offensive and unfocused noir musical attempts to tell the story of Vikki (Erikka Walsh), a troubled soul who is trying to come to terms with her father, Kevin (Michael J. Farina) and her ex-lover Danielle (Kaye Tuckerman). Danielle, once a Broadway producer, apparently made Vikki—who went by the name “Stella Hart”— a star. Within seconds of her first entrance, Danielle sings a waltz about how Vikki left her: “You went away one winter day/though it was June that’s what they say.” What does that even mean?
Later, Danielle describes her career: “I’m a Broadway producer and you should know what that means. I don’t get disappointed. I give disappointment.” Huh?
Discussions of rape and incest are glossed over by uninspired songs that feel unbearably endless. Music Director Mason Griffin deserves an award for having to subject himself to this each night.
What is most troubling about the show is writer and director Arnold L. Cohen’s tone deafness. Within the show’s first 15 minutes, he manages to offend every social group possible. It begins with Kevin’s six consecutive phone calls. Each caller offers condolences on his wife’s recent passing. After every call, he slams down the receiver and yells malicious epithets. His friend Brad is a “F—in’ plutocrat.” His rabbi acquaintance is a “F—in’ Jew.” During a phone conversation with his priest, Kevin—a self-avowed Catholic—tells him that his parents always made a point not to “point at a Jew and make fun” because they are “Christ killers the whole bunch, but my mother taught me never to say it to their face.”
It gets worse.
When Vikki asks why Kevin repeatedly violated her, he responds, “Power… the thrill… the intoxication. You can’t beat it, feeling a young girl’s fear beneath you, eyes looking up pleading.” This leads into a song that Vikki sings, the lyrics to which are—you guessed it—insipid and elementary.
Developmentally, Cohen could make his character’s brash personality work. Television’s Archie Bunker was a prime example of a bigot who still managed to glean empathy from viewers. By the end of every episode, Bunker learned a lesson from his myopic worldview. But there is no lesson to be learned in any of Cohen’s characters. Consequently, the social irresponsibility factor is at an all-time high. There is no redemption for anyone in this musical—nor are there punishments for anyone’s actions. Theater doesn’t require a moral lesson, but should it glorify despicable behavior?
Nearly every female referenced is called a “bitch” or “whore.” At one point, Kevin is about to call Vikki one of those derogatory terms when she interrupts him: “You may have exhausted your vocabulary,” she replies.
Truer words were never spoken. Cohen’s attempt at hard-boiled murder mystery dialogue never takes off. Those seeking an authentic noir fix would be best served by film classics like The Maltese Falcon, Sunset Boulevard, or L.A. Confidential.
With such a scathing assessment, one may wonder if there is anything redeemable. The answer: Yes. Craig Napoliello’s set design is appropriately dark and claustrophobic. Ross Graham’s lighting casts ideal shadows on the stage and on Cohen’s cast.
I think it’s time to put this cigarette out.
Come Light My Cigarette
Theatre at St. Clements
423 West 46th Street, NYC
Through September 3
Ryan Leeds is a freelance theater journalist who lives in Manhattan. He is the Chief Theater Critic for Manhattan Digest and a frequent contributor to Dramatics Magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @Ry_Runner or on Facebook.