In writer-director Padraic Duffy's new play, Niklas Keller (Mark Bramhall) now in his 70s, sits at a desk somewhere in Germany, rifling through documents shredded by the East German secret police years ago. His pin-in-a-haystack search is for a fragment of a conversation, for a woman, his wife, for a fleeting marriage that dissolved before his eyes in a world where everybody was being watched and nothing was certain. His Quixotic search is for certainty, for an understanding of why said wife disappeared, after that conversation in which she promised somebody, some man in a trenchcoat, that she would see him later in that day. It was clandestine rendezvous in which both man and woman were each incognito (except to each other). After she met with that man, Keller never saw his wife again. Keller pieces together that conversation from shreds of tiny slips of paper found in sacks of shredded documents that the contemporary government is analyzing in order to understand the now defunct East German mentality. That conversation shows up again on film, actually a live re-enactment performed by Jessica Sherman and Jacob Sidney. Her neck is wrapped in a purple scarf, and the kind of white handbag that was de rigueur for East German spies. He's in a trenchcoat. It's all very noir. And so Duffy's romantic thriller follows a kind of Agatha Christie logic, as revealed in a smokey Fritz Lang flick where nobody is quite who they claim to be. The flashbacks provide the keenest sense of film noir that Duffy's play winks at. There's an almost choreographic panache to the swirl with which Sherman and Sidney move. Less so in the present tense, where the acting style more cinema verite than noir. The consequence is a kind of emotional investment in a sentimental love story, pinched at times by the sly visual jokes on a film style that Duffy clearly adores. His affection for the form, and for its characters, is so much more satisfying than a parody. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., Los Angeles; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 19. (310) 281-8337.

Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Starts: Jan. 21. Continues through Feb. 26, 2011

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