Concrete Folk Variations, Chapter One: Death of a Sugar Daddy

Los Angeles, 1947, and the last thing you want to be is communist or homosexual. And for the city’s lesbian community, persecution looms with the hushed-up murder of a 70-year-old millionairess who had kept the LAPD in her purse. Such is the setting for writer-director-designer Susan Simpson’s noir serial puppet show. Reluctantly, gray-haired ex-beat cop Loretta Salt — half wood, half clay, all tough broad — investigates, her face etched by wrinkles and her taciturn nature balanced by a puppeteer who clues us in that when Loretta rubs her neck, she’s thinking about her dad. Simpson’s set is the size of a car windshield, and the episodes unfold in half increments (Chapter 1.5 debuts March 21). But this tone-perfect first installment hooks our attention with a killer mystery, moody narration and fascinating historicity that occasionally tips into whimsy — for example, when Salt and the victim’s girlfriend take the Red Car past the old Lincoln Heights bird farm, an ostrich is wheeled across the stage. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 p.m. Starts: March 6. Continues through March 22, 2008