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. The Manual Archives, 3320 W. Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru March 22. (323) 667-0156.—Amy Nicholson

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