By Patrick Hurley
2Cents Theatre is presenting Stephen Adly Guirgis’ Den of Thieves at the Hudson Guild Theatre through February 7. The play is about a ragtag, completely inept group of criminals who attempt and ultimately fail to rob seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars from a mob boss.
They then find themselves tied to chairs and at the mercy of said mob boss’s son, who promises to kill just one of them. The only catch is they have until dawn to decide, amongst themselves, which of them will die.
There’s Maggie (Alison Quinn) a compulsive shoplifter and junk food addict, who is trying to go straight with the help of her sponsor Paul (Frank Gallegos), a recovering criminal and compulsive overeater who counts the actual number of days since his last crime, and his last snack cake. The two of them are in a twelve step program for recovering thieves. At Maggie’s apartment one night, she calls Paul to come over so she can confess to him that she fell of the wagon and shoplifted. While they’re planning to return everything she stole, Maggie’s jealous ex-boyfriend Flaco (Kevin Herrmann), a self proclaimed Latino, who’s actual nationality is a bit ambiguous, comes with a proposition. It seems Flaco has uncovered some info about a safe, located in a downtown disco that contains seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Flaco swear the safe is being guarded by an easily distracted crackhead. The one catch is that Flaco needs a safecracker, which is one of Paul’s specialties. Paul and Maggie decide it’s too big a score to turn down, and they decide to make this their last hit. Rounding out the group is Flaco’s new girlfriend Boochie (Paulina Gamiz), a topless dancer with a third grade reading level and dreams of fame and fortune.
How could this possibly go wrong?
The safe, as it turns out, was the property of a crime syndicate, run by a man known as “The Big Tuna” (Cris D’Annunzio). The quartet finds themselves tied to chairs and at the mercy of The Big Tuna’s son Louie, the Little Tuna (Chris Lanehart), who is in charge for the weekend while his daddy’s away. Louie, along with his muscle Sal (Eric Geller) turns out to be almost as inept at being a wiseguy as our quartet is at being criminals. For starter’s he’s got a bit too much of a conscience, and he makes the deal to allow three of them to live, as long as they decide which one of them will die. The four must then argue over why they should be the one to live. Each makes an argument for themselves, and along the way there are more than a few self discoveries. It is in these discoveries, and the all too convenient ending that make this play one of Guirgis’s least effective. It does somewhat make up for its shortcomings with a good amount of humor. But for a playwright who truly excels at language driven character pieces, this one falls a little short.
This production, directed by Eric Augusztiny, faces a few difficulties in the staging of this piece. The space is tiny, which could have been utilized, at least for the first act, as a means of keeping everything tight and focused. Unfortunately, the first act has actors who seem to be unsure of where to stand or how to handle the space. It pulls the focus away from the material. There’s also the issue of energy. A couple of the actors have such intense energy that it fills the space and then some. This makes the first half of this show clunky and uneven. The second act, however, with four of the actors tied to chairs, allows for the play to come to life. The limited movement brings the energy into focus, and the clunky stage direction of act one dissipates.
All of the actors give their enthusiastic all, and the work ranges from a bit contrived to quite realized with some standout performances. Particularly from Cris D’Annunzio, whose Big Tuna may only be on stage for a few minutes, but he embodies the role with such ease that he easily steals the final moments of this production. Kevin Herrmann has great moments as Flaco. He comes into act one with the force of a hurricane and is a bit obnoxious, which the character calls for. However, by the end of the play, his character arc is earned because of his commitment to overplaying each and every moment. He doesn’t relent. He makes choices and sticks to them. It’s a risky move from an actor, and it only pays off because he manages to elicit empathy as he ferociously chews the scenery. All of the actors do a good job keeping the production in high gear, and this keeps the audience engaged.
Even with it’s flaws and bumpy first act, the production is quite humorous at times, and the actors make the roles likable enough for us to want to follow them to the end. It’s an entertaining evening that should leave most audiences with a smile on their face.
Den of Thieves
By Stephen Adly Guirgis
Directed by Eric Augusztiny
Jan 15-Feb 7
Hudson Guild Theatre
6539 Santa Monica Blvd. Hollywood