PORTLAND – As Philip Marlowe approached the double doors of 25A Forest Ave., he paused, casting a wary eye around the lamp-lit street. That fickle dame, Mother Nature, had done a number on Portland, turning the city into her personal snow globe, and then spitefully spitting an ice-cold rain that chilled him to the bone.

This weather was a far cry from what he was used to on the mean streets of Los Angeles, but no amount of thuggish weather was going to trouble this private eye. “After all,” he thought as he pulled open the door and stepped into Portland Stage Company’s stately lobby, “trouble is my business.”

All who crossed that threshold Friday walked back in time to the jazz-age setting of Raymond Chandler’s detective thrillers, and into the world of his protagonist, private eye Philip Marlowe. It was opening night of the world premiere of “Trouble is My Business,” featuring two of Chandler’s short stories, cleverly adapted for the stage by James Glossman.

The two-part evening flowed, like a draft of fine whiskey. Sets and props glided in and out with the cast as the locales changed. And an oversize, fully functioning set of blinds, spanning the back of the stage, doubled as a projection screen, lit up with telltale images, and windows/doors that unveiled hidden truths.

Marlowe’s (David Mason) world began to unfold even before the curtain rose. A piano-playing bartender (Anthony Blaha) quietly chatted up his soon-to-be-patron (Ron Botting). Intrigue was brewing in the air, whetting the audience’s appetite for the literary feast that was to ensue.

Mason, as Marlowe, had the audience, hook, line and sinker from the moment he opened his mouth and began the first-person narration of Act I, “Red Wind.” Colorful descriptors rolled off his tongue, smooth as silk, painting images of a bygone era, riddled with crime, greed, corruption, intrigue and passion.

Dames with legs that wouldn’t quit; gun-toting thugs who’d pop a guy for looking the wrong way; a confidence-keeping bartender, serving hard liquor to even harder men; rich businessmen with mob ties; husbands with mistresses stashed in secret love nests; and crooked cops willing to look the other way for the right price — all the requisite elements of the genre were represented with full film noir flair.

Blaha, Botting, Paul Murphy, Leigh Poulos, Dustin Tucker and Daniel Noel stepped in and out of these roles and others, showcasing their acting versatility. All the while, Mason’s Marlowe wove two rapid-fire tales of coincidence and murder.

An unwitting witness to a hit in the bar across the street from his apartment in “Red Wind,” Marlowe became embroiled in a mystery revolving around a femme fatale named Lola (Poulos). Meanwhile, the red winds (aka the Santa Ana winds) kept blowing, igniting tempers and stoking the flames of desire.

Act II, “Trouble is My Business,” once again found Marlowe up to his eyeballs in trouble, harassed by thugs and cops alike, as he worked a case for his employer, Anna, played with great hilarity by Murphy. As with the previous act, all roads led to a woman, Harriet Huntress (Poulos).

With the body count mounting, and his fair share of brushes with the Grim Reaper, Marlowe knew the only things he could count on were his wit and his smarts. And, so can the audience.

Portland Stage has stacked the deck in the audience’s favor with this wonderfully quirky, period-locked piece.

April Boyle is a freelance writer from Casco. She can be contacted at:

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