When such subjects as murder, espionage, H-bombs and McCarthyism are combined with romantic complications, it makes for an evening of mystery-based, screwball comedy at Portland Stage.

Playwright Michael Hollinger fashioned his “Red Herring” out of aspects of life in 1950s America as viewed through the darkened prism of classic film noir. But the play ultimately succeeds simply as a couple of hours of good fun centered on the trials of characters trying to get, and stay, together.

Director Michael Rafkin and crew have engagingly focused the play’s two dozen scenes in a way that propels the multi-purpose plot forward while leaving space for uproariously funny moments along the way.

On opening night, a sextet of professional actors hit all the comic marks while teasing out just enough personal touches to take the characters beyond their easily recognizable types.

Robyn Payne, a standout in last season’s Portland Stage production of “Disgraced,” reveals her versatility here in playing a hard-boiled detective with a soft center. She may be a romantic underneath, but Payne’s Maggie winningly projects a few sharp zingers as she investigates a murder most mysterious.

Her love interest, a spy-chasing FBI agent played by local theater veteran Dustin Tucker, is a goofball with a heart of gold. At his best in such broad comic roles, Tucker also portrays a harried priest trying to hear dueling confessions and a military man expounding about marriage being based on a “balance of power and a mutual fear of destruction.”

Katie Ailion plays the not-so-naïve daughter of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, the notorious communist hunter. Her romance with a young scientist, played by Josh Odsess-Rubin, gets twisted significantly when he asks her to undertake an espionage mission. Constantly readjusting their characters’ relationship, as in one off-kilter phone call, the pair winningly conveyed a ditsy struggle to remain “innocent” in troubled times.

Gary Littman, as a put-upon Russian, and Marcy McGuigan, as his landlord/lover, form a third couple. Littman draws the sardonic laughs out of a drunken bar scene opposite Payne and adds off-the-wall physical comedy when he’s temporarily muted.lEmploying accents and attitudes, not only as the amorous landlord but also as the acerbic owner of a wedding dress shop, McGuigan is a standout as she adds welcome touches of a more sophisticated comedic sensibility.

The set, costumes, lighting and sound designs by Anita Stewart, Kathleen Payton Brown and Bryon Winn and Karin Graybash, respectively, give the play the feel of a tough period where life, love and laughs nevertheless happily go on.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.