Ham Pants' production of The Wrong Dick, at the Dark Room this month Thursdays through Saturdays, is as much a love letter to detective noir as it is a spoof. And like so many love letters (not that we critics receive a lot of them, but we can imagine), this one goes on a little too long.
When it parodies, however, this show shines. It follows Mort Fiskarmann (Tim Kay), a fishmonger who stumbles upon, throws up in, and then finds himself somehow responsible for a pile of dead whores -- or as one character says it, "hoo-oars." Complicating his exoneration is a madcap adventure through various San Francisco neighborhoods, on which he encounters a parade of multiple stock characters in the genre: the inscrutable, opium-peddling Oriental (Cameron Eng); the "dame" who's dying to tell her story of woe to "a capable man" but then erupts with histrionics into her handkerchief (Monica Hernandez); and of course, the trench coat-sporting hard-boiled detective (Damien Chacona).
And this is only the beginning. The number of stereotypes that writers Chacona and Andy Wenger crowd onto the Dark Room's intimate stage almost makes for an exhaustive catalogue. At least most get a sublime comic line or two. Sometimes the fun comes from the characters' names, as in this mouthful: "We're here to find out if Teddy Two-Toes can tell us what happened to Freckled Sally last night." Sometimes it comes from incongruity, as when a bulky, surly longshoreman (John Flaw) threatens, "You want someone to tickle your tush?" And sometimes it comes from exaggeration, as when a torturer nicknamed The Dentist (Wenger), upon finding out he has the wrong victim, whimpers about his wasted time and his ruined day like a hipster having a temper tantrum.
A plodding, overcomplicated plot disperses these delightful bits. Wenger, who also directs, has the right style, with over-the-top props, prolific gore, and hackneyed-sounding rainy-day jazz in between the scenes. All the show needs is a good trim.
The Wrong Dick continues through May 26 at the Dark Room Theater, 2263 Mission (at 19th St.), S.F. Admission is $20.