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Handbook for Hosts

Studio Theatre (Mead Theatre – 1501 14th St. NW)

Remaining Performances:

Thursday, July 15th, 10:15 p.m. Saturday, July 17th, 1 p.m. Sunday, July 18th, 5:30 p.m. Saturday, July 24th, 8 p.m.

They Say: “Puzzling. Seductive. Film-noir meets radio in a comic cocktail collage ignited by Esquire’s 1949 HANDBOOK FOR HOSTS. Consummate recipes from a time when men were men, dames wore gloves, and sloe gin fizzed.”

Chris’s Take:

Hit me with another just like this, would you? Thanks, Doll. You’re a peach.

Even though it’s adapted, kind of, from a book — the eponymous home-entertaining how-to published by Esquire in 1949, when men were men, etc., etc. — this is an amusement of striking originality and of unceasing sensory pleasures.

After a cleverly choreographed set of opening-title cards (!) follows no story to speak of. The brief here is to establish a seductive, dreamlike, Nighthawks at the Diner sort of tone, and co-production entities Happenstance Theater and Banished Productions have executed like gangbusters. Dame walks into a bar is a more-or-less complete synopsis, though there’s a fun recurring bit with Happenstance co-founders (and spouses) Mark Jaster and Sabrina Mandell as a pair of easily distracted spies intercepting a transmission of a sonorous-voiced gentleman reading from the titular Handbook. Not exactly Eyes Only, but it’s surely the most seductive prose ever penned about how to carve a turkey.

Melissa Krodman and Michael Sazonov are equally locked into the Truman-era vibe as Femme and Gent, and there’s a vulnerable quality to Krodman’s singing that makes her seem even more fatale than when it takes her half a minute to peel off one of her gloves. When all four performers wagon up around the mic with to harmonize on an advertisement for a defunct brand of coffee, it’s a commercial so non-intrusive the only present-day equivalent would be the personal appeals of that deodorant pitchman.

See it if: You’re prone to powerful fits of nostalgia for the Golden age of radio and fedora-wearing.

Skip it if: You reject out of hand the notion that sometimes style is substance.