First, the lights dim. A saxophone player walks onto the side of the stage, stands in a purplish spotlight, and begins playing a sultry jazz number with a repeating five-note theme that promises only one thing: noir. The unusual play, which I highly recommend, is called Infinite Noir. It is billed as puppet theater, but there are no puppets, no "tangible abstractions" of the human body, as Roland Barthes would put it—only empty costumes controlled by actors dressed in black. It's a combination of puppetry, mime (there is no dialogue), dance, theater, and, in a way, 19th-century program music, music with a story to tell. The only consistent voice throughout is the saxophone. Brian Kent plays it, snake charming the audience into a mood but also observing the action onstage and responding to it. Every ensemble member of this simple-seeming production has more than one job.

The reason Infinite Noir seems simple is that it begins from the concept of flatness. The characters are archetypes, named in the program: The Private Eye, The Femme Fatale (wearing red pumps and a hat with red feathers, of course), The Bad Guy, The Snitch, The Former Partner, The Dead Guy. The office setting, by Erin Eave, is stock noir, down to the drawn blinds and the whiskey in the desk drawer. The metaphor of language—the way a word stands for a thing, or a series of slippery things—is absent, since there's no talking. The plot could have been written by a computer that had crunched together any dozen noir stories. Everything is calculated to be standard, to be right there on the surface, not to imply depth or illusion. Even the incriminating "photographs" are drawings. The street chase is performed in projected shadows and silhouettes on a wall of the office, and The Dead Guy, well, he is a white-plastic murder outline who makes a loud, comical slapping noise as he hits the floor and is pushed under the rug.

This is what the humor in Douglas N. Paasch's Infinite Noir is like: dry and sly. It feels like the flip side of slapstick, which opens a channel for releasing anxiety about the body by overpresenting the body. Paasch removes discernible bodies entirely and provides only their outlines and movements, like a novelist. Except that this story has no beginning or end, really. It starts with a phone call and ends with the same phone call, as if in a digital loop. The quality of the movement is all, and in this, ensemble member Greg Carter stands out, expressing with his gestures the bend in the tired detective's neck, or the glower in his expression as the villain gets the upper hand. It's nice to be asked to do some imagining in the theater. Paasch has created a 45-minute antidote to numbing realism.