Picture a bar by an airport, just a little hole in the wall that people stop into when they’re running away. It’s the kind of place that “smells like stale cigarette smoke and shattered dreams.” The only thing anyone drinks there is bourbon or gin, and the Piano Man plays the blues.

Such a bar is the “Red Eye Lounge,” the setting of the Ensemble Theatre Company’s season-opening show, “Gunmetal Blues.” Murder, mysterious peroxide blondes and “the one that got away” are all that ever bothered to slink through the doors of the Red Eye Lounge and listen to Buddy walk the keys. That is the story, at least, for Sam, the Private Eye.

Directed by UCSB Theater & Dance professor Risa Brainin, “Gunmetal Blues” is a tongue-in-cheek “love letter to film noir.” Each song in the show pays tribute to one of the many canons of the film noir genre, such as the hardball detective who “sticks to the facts,” or the many kinds of blondes that color these black-and-white tales.

“The piece should feel like an evening of channel surfing every Humphrey Bogart movie ever made!” Brainin exclaimed.
A barroom set with a piano between the door and only table are a thin window for the audience, who may as well be watching the story unfold from a corner table, taking one last stiff one before a late-night flight. The Ensemble Theatre Company’s small playhouse venue played very well to that effect.

“Welcome to this window, mon voyeur,” sings the Piano Player (John Massey), inviting the audience a close seat in the action.

The three-actor cast told its story with passion and pizzazz as only the blues can capture. Love, innocence, dreams and the loss of all three permeate the show’s music and story. The Piano Player and the Blonde (JJ Rogers) move in and out of many characters while the down and out Private Eye (Chris Halstead) digs through the city’s dirt to solve a murder, and his own past to find Jenny, “the one that got away.”

Gunmetal Blues plays Tuesday through Sunday until Oct.25 at the Ensemble Theatre Company’s downtown playhouse.