Credit: Jeffrey Bivens

Curious Theatre Branch presents the world premiere of Matt Rieger’s overloaded whodunit about underworld struggles with a lot of hand-wringing over morality. When a neighborhood kid is mugged while running an errand for a mysterious figure named Hart (Rieger), it sets off a series of killings and reprisals that upends the power dynamic of the town.

Told in four acts through a breathlessly listed series of dozens of scenes—none much longer than five minutes—this is an intermittently amusing but often baffling stew of snark and philosophizing masquerading as a mystery. Salet the Messenger (Cat Jarboe), for instance, is an arch, Cheshire Cat-type trickster who’s funny at first but wears out her welcome and function by the third or fourth time she repeats the same shtick.

Rieger seems to be aiming for a David Mamet- or David Milch-style smart-aleck patter, but he lands closer to Tarantino verbosity. Rick Paul’s witty visual design—which includes a background of lit-up buildings and an LED crawl announcing the endlessly changing scenes—goes a long way to mitigate the overly busy text. Rieger does the piece no favors by signaling deaths by having the killer literally x out his victim with a marker or by naming one of his characters Persephone—queen of the underworld, get it? Still, when it’s not trying so hard to balance gravitas and blather, this is an enjoyable crime comedy. Rieger directed with Jenny Magnus, Beau O’Reilly, and Stefan Brün.   v