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The New School of Northern Virginia in Fairfax, Virginia, presented “Red Herring” to the Cappies Critics on March 16, 2024. Here are the top two Cappies Critic reviews.

Sofia Hemmens

Justice High School


When a man is at once a mute husband to a landlady, a dead spy with a Moscovian wife, and a talkative Russian from Oklahoma, the one thing an audience can expect is the unexpected. Join the New School of Northern Virginia as they dive into the noir comedy murder mystery of Red Herring, where marriage meets McCarthyism, witty quips meet atom bombs, and wives-to-be meet widows-to-have-been. (Fact of the matter is, hardly anyone knows which is the wife, and which is the widow.)


Red Herring, written by Michael Hollinger, premiered in 2000 at the Arden Theatre Company in Philadelphia. Set in 1952, the story follows Detective Maggie Pelletier (Mia Morgan) and her lover-slash-fiancé, G-man Frank Keller (Jonas Walker) as they try to unravel the mystery of who killed Andrei Borchevsky (Drew Reynolds). Borchevsky, who happens to be alive and well, is a Russian spy, acting in fear for his wife back in Moscow. His marriage doesn't stop Borchevsky from striking up an amorous relationship with the landlady, Mrs. Florence Kravitz (Arminé Heard), whose husband she killed, under the name Andrei Borchevsky. Andrei must communicate with a spy based in Los Alamos named James Appel (Noah Freedman), who is newly and ironically engaged to Lynn (Courtney Weldon) the daughter of notorious congressman Joseph McCarthy.


Morgan as Pelletier tugged at the threads of this knotted mystery like a seasoned detective, uncovering shocking truths alongside the audience. Weldon as McCarthy was earnest and sweet, navigating more intimate scenes alongside Freedman's Appel with ease. Reynolds' performance as the thickly accented, awkward but charming Andrei had the audience in stitches. Several actors had smaller, but no less engaging roles, such as Ryelyn Nordeng as Petey, Frank's long-suffering partner, Sophie Grzadzinski as an authoritative wedding dress shop owner, Mrs. Van Nostrand, and Nick Giuseppe as Mrs. Van Nostrand's poor elderly husband, Herbert.


A large aspect of the show's success was its set. Very minimal, the set consisted of a collection of boxes on top of platforms, all painstakingly detailed with wood patterns. The set team, headed by Sophie Grzadzinski and padded out with The New School's tech class, created these boxes and platforms, which were used in many versatile manners by the actors throughout the show. The lighting team (Ben Cauvel, Willow Groehn, and Julia Sherwood) illuminated the stage in a variety of creative ways, like stripes evocative of light through a window with slatted shades, and sharp squares as two characters tried to simultaneously confess their sins to a beleaguered priest.


The New School's production of Red Herring was set in circumstances far removed from the modern high schooler's experience. But the cast of this show still managed to portray its characters with humanity, depth, and emotion, grounded in their relationships with one another.  At the show's closing, as the happy couples clasped hands in handcuffs, the message of the play became more apparent than ever: sometimes good people are forced into bad situations, and everyone deserves the chance to change. Surprisingly heartwarming, for a play steeped in such gritty themes and topics. Oh, and one should always thoroughly chew one's Herring Surprise. It's a very versatile fish.

Charlotte Willmore

Woodson High School


The year is 1952. The Cold War is at its prime, the Red Scare has resurged, and everybody likes Ike. Unfortunately, for three unsuspecting couples, the trials and tribulations of the times might be too much for their love to withstand. The New School of Northern Virginia’s Red Herring is a hilarious romp that explores whether the bonds of love are truly powerful enough to survive lying, espionage, and worst of all, murder.


Written by Michael Hollinger, Red Herring is a parodic representation of the classic film noir genre. Combining mystery, comedy, and romance, the plot revolves around three couples: two bickering FBI agents, a scandalous international affair, and a pair of newly engaged fiancés, each with secrets of their own. The story is packed with plot twists and curveballs to keep audiences on their toes throughout the entire show and includes flawed, humorous characters that were, even at their lowest moments, incredibly human.


As the perfectionistic detective herself, Mia Morgan’s performance captured the nuances of her complicated and quick-witted character, Maggie Pelletier. From the first scene of the play, Maggie was seen bantering with her fellow detective boyfriend, Frank, and her hardworking and confident personality was established. However, Morgan’s performance allowed her character’s deeper desire for stability and intimacy to shine through just as brightly as her poised exterior. Although women in the 50’s were largely expected to be docile and submissive, Morgan was not afraid to embrace the assertive and powerful female character she was portraying.


As another strong female presence, Mrs. Kravitz, played by Arminé Heard, was at times cynical, at others calculating, but always quick on her feet. Although her actions were in no way ethical, Mrs. Kravitz managed to mastermind her way through adultery and murder by using every opportunity she could to preserve the secrets of both her, and her secret Russian lover, Andrei. Heard’s unfaltering puckered frown and dry delivery of her many humorous lines perfectly encapsulated the jaded and misanthropic Mrs. Kravitz. Alongside Heard, Courtney Weldon as Lynn McCarthy portrayed a flightier and more naïve side of womanhood. Weldon spoke very naturally on stage and every reaction she had felt raw and genuine. Even as her situation continued in a downward spiral, Weldon’s Lynn never lost her peppy grin.


Although the show’s set, designed by Sophie Grzadzinski, was minimal, it did not limit the number of settings the cast and stage crew were able to create. From drinking at a bar to an autopsy at the morgue, the clever usage of wooden acting boxes allowed scenes to take place in a wide scope of places without sacrificing clarity for the audience. Another element that enhanced many aspects of the show was the lighting design done by Ben Cauvel, Willow Groehn, Julia Sherwood, and the rest of The New School’s Tech Class. In one scene, while three characters witnessed the test dropping of the hydrogen bomb, the lights gradually grew brighter on stage. The growing intensity of the lights paired with a slow rumbling sound effect gave watchers the impression that the H-bomb was detonating right behind their seats. In another scene, banded lights were used to cast striped shadows across the actors. These stripes paid homage to the usage of Venetian blinds in the classic film noir genre that emphasized a sharp contrast between light and dark on the faces of its characters.


With its talented actors and artful design choices, The New School’s Red Herring took its watchers on a spirited journey forked by twists and turns and served as a reminder that some people will do anything for love.


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