The femme fatale in a film noir functions on levels that aren’t terribly clear. The sleek seductress who saunters into an office, bats a long eyelash gripping an even longer cigarette, and ultimately causes a man’s destruction is hindered by one simple question – what’s her motivation?
It’s a question that performer Jill Vice has wrestled with ever since she fell in love with the film noir genre more than 10 years ago. She loves everything that encompasses the genre – the starkness of good and evil, the sleek black dress, the mid-Atlantic accent and the grandness of the sets. Yet in her examination of multiple films that follow the format of the dark, sharp thriller, there was something left to be desired. The women in these films, who are perfectly put together and maintain complete and total control over these strong powerful men, never really seemed to have a proper motivation. Was it money? Probably not. Power or control? Maybe, but maybe not.
“You never see in any films what makes the femme fatale tick,” said Vice. “You’re not sure what is the motivation. The women seem to already come from wealth, and they show up as a manipulative, conniving seductress, as these villains. I was really interested in that.
“When I first started writing, that came to me and I realized, oh, that wasn’t what was usually done, so I kept going.”
After viewing and studying countless hours of the genre, Vice has taken her examination of these women to another level, bringing her one-woman show to the Marsh in San Francisco. And in this show, she uses comedy, drama and tension to try and answer the unanswered.
“A Fatal Step,” running Thursdays and Saturdays through March 3rd, turns the film noir genre on its head, moving the femme fatale into the protagonist chair, veering away from the detective as the moral core of the piece. It’s an exciting opportunity for Vice, who is taking full advantage of a shot at poetic justice.
In the 60-minute show developed with David Ford and directed by Mark Kenward, Vice plays eight different characters, with a femme fatale named Sarah dealing with an archrival who locks her into a battle for her handsome podiatrist boyfriend. The show is her second with the Marsh, the first being the 2013 acclaimed piece “Tipped and Tipsy,” which also had an extended run at the Marsh and won The San Francisco Fringe Festival’s “Best of Fest” in that same year.
“A Fatal Step” was picked up after a successful October run through Marsh Rising, a one-night tryout for a chance to play an extended run with the company. After touring the United States and Canada and nabbing “Sold Out” and “Audience Choice” awards at the Indy Fringe Festival in Indianapolis, it returns to Vice’s home of San Francisco.
San Francisco is also a major character in the piece, a city that is viewed in modern times, yet the story and characters are straight from the 1940s. And because of the anachronism that exists in the show, it allows Vice to examine another interesting phenomenon of the genre – the role of beauty in a patriarchal society.
“Living in a society that puts so much value on a woman based on her beauty and sexuality is a bunch of bullshit,” said Vice. “And yet, while she knows this, this femme fatale is totally consumed by it. She is grappling with being more than just a pretty face. She’s asking what does it take to keep a man, all the while seeing through this lens of insecurity which blinds her to the fact that she already has the thing she so badly wants.”
Examining these issues through this piece encompasses one level of engagement. On another level, Vice would love audiences to experience the joy she feels when she is digging into this genre, turning it on its head with glee.
“It’s a comedy and a thriller with plenty of twists and turns, and something that’s never been seen,” said Vice. “The experience is really an old movie and a cinematic ride.”
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
The Marsh presents “A Fatal Step”
Written and performed by Jill Vice
Developed with David Ford
Directed by Mark Kenward
Thursdays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 8:30 pm
Running time: 60 minutes, no intermission
Through March 3rd
1062 Valencia, San Francisco, CA 94110
Tickets range from $20 – $100
For tickets and information, call (415) 282-3055 or visit the official website.