In 1940s Hollywood, aspiring starlet Minnie Walters (Carolyn Hayver) seems to have it all — a devoted fiancé, Frank (Kelby Cross); a supportive BFF, Mabel (Melissa Gentry); and a major, star-making feature film in the can. When Frank is found standing over her bloody corpse holding the murder weapon on the evening of the big premiere, however, it's up to an intrepid, albeit nameless Private Eye (Willy Romano-Pugh) to dig beneath the obvious to uncover the sordid truth. On some level, playwright-director Vanessa Cate's playfully tongue-in-cheek homage to film noir is about the universally corrupting ambition behind the image of movie-star glamour. But don't look for nuanced psychology or deep characterization in Cate's collection of familiar genre archetypes; her play is strictly an affectionate love letter to noir style. And while as a writer Cate is less assured of the B movie crime thriller's hardboiled patois (Raymond Chandler fans be warned), as a director she proves herself a deftly inventive and witty satirist of noir's narrative and visual tropes. Supported by Natalie Hyde's period-perfect costumes and makeup, Cate's exaggerated melodrama and broadly expressionistic mise-en-scene moves beyond simple burlesque to approach the transcendent threshold of Charles Ludlam ridiculousness. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.- Sat., 8:30 p.m.; through Feb. 11; (818) 202-4120,

Fridays, Saturdays, 8:30 p.m. Starts: Jan. 13. Continues through Feb. 11, 2012

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