Sheila Callaghan’s imagination has turned noir—very noir. Roadkill Confidential, her new drama, pays playful homage to the shadowy old crime-film genre even as it flirts with apocalypse.
Film noir always needs a distressed damsel—a lady who’s tough as nails and maybe not completely honest with men about certain skeletons in her closet. In Roadkill Confidential, that would be Trevor (Rebecca Henderson), a moody conceptual artist who collects animals to make carcass-installations in her secret upstate barn. Her art-world fame enchants her lonely neighbor, Melanie (Polly Lee), and consumes her wonkish art-historian husband (Greg McFadden)—both familiar types. But when someone sneaks into the studio and catches a rare fatal disease from touching poison bunny fur, is Trevor a victim or a perpetrator?
Enter the salty sleuth: a gruff, eye patch–wearing FBI Man (Danny Mastrogiorgio), who suspects foul play—maybe even terrorism. Though he spends most of his time chewing on long philosophical soliloquies like a chatty Humphrey Bogart, FBI Man eventually solves the caper just as Trevor’s world collapses.
Kip Fagan directs this Clubbed Thumb production with a keen eye and ear for the genre. But the script’s other dimensions—it’s subtitled “a noir-ish meditation on brutality”—are unappealingly murky. Callaghan serves up too many ponderous but unfocused speeches that never pay off as poetry or ideas. There are references to violence in Afghanistan, roadside bombings, and other instances of human cruelty, and we’re supposed to see Trevor’s morbid creations as her plaintive response to a dark planet. But the proposition that slaughter can become a cultural gesture isn’t developed enough to make an impact. And that leaves us to do some detective work of our own, wondering if anything’s really lurking in the play’s gloomy shadows.