Firefighting and fire starting get the noir-camp treatment in Adam Szymkowicz’s Incendiary, which tackles the whimsical dilemma of star-crossed lovers in the arsonist and arson-investigator fields. Laurie Jones is Elise, a female fire chief (a welcome idea) who has a problem: She loves fire so much she sneaks into abandoned buildings and sets them alight. Paul Vonasek is Jake, the classic melancholy detective determined to crack the case, assisted by a comical Greek chorus of trench-coated assistants more reminiscent of Kermit than Sam Spade.
Vonasek nails his character’s physicality and that vaguely Continental accent so prevalent in the vintage films that inspire Szymkowicz’s script. Thanks to the skill of set designer Tim Lane and prop/lighting designer Holly McCauley, it’s a thrilling sight to watch Jones fighting startlingly real fires. But her snappy-brassy delivery slides around without quite landing, and her affect is too overblown for noir; the character doesn’t feel fully realized.
There’s a lot of sound here, and the production can be overloud at times. Still, this nutty love triangle of boy, girl and inferno is charmingly original and genuinely suspenseful. And Sara Kaplan, who plays the conflicted fire chief’s equally conflicted shrink, is a winning character actor: She does fluttery neurotic and empowered conspirator equally well, creating big laughs with subtle shifts of expression.