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Stage

Den of Thieves

Four bumbling losers face their mortality

Photo: Britt Olsen-Ecker and Andrew Peters, License: N/A

Britt Olsen-Ecker and Andrew Peters


Den of Thieves

By Stephen Adly Guirgis

A Glass Mind Theatre production, at Load of Fun through Sept. 25th

Stephen Adly Guirgis' 2003 dark comedy Den of Thieves is one heck of a good time. Four hopeless, degenerate losers spend most of Act One planning a heist that only idiots could mess up. Or so they declare nonchalantly before the lights die down. The next scene opens with the crew tied to chairs in a mobster's back room, about to be tortured and killed. Events take a turn for the unexpected, however, when their captor proposes a merciful sentence: Three will live. One will die. And before dawn, they must choose from among themselves who that one will be.

Thus begins a torrent of humorous, emotional, and often screamed pleas as each character attempts to convince the others that he or she should live. Arguments range from insightful social commentary to absurdity - one character promises to haunt another, claiming, "I'll be all like boo 'n' shit." The script is flavored by wonderful one-line zingers like this, and director Britt Olsen-Ecker doesn't miss a beat delivering them. The writer/actor/singer debuts her directing talent with Glass Mind Theatre's second-season opener, and it would appear a talent has arrived. Audience attendance was sparse on opening night, but Glass Mind is a newcomer to the Baltimore theater scene. Judging from this production, it is likely to be a strong voice.

Of course, that voice would be better appreciated if the sound system at Load of Fun didn't have a minor meltdown every few scenes, making strange noises for a few seconds before returning to normalcy - not to mention the footsteps from the floor above occasionally drowning out the actors. And the lighting often misses the mark. Sometimes the audience is lit up, sometimes the stage isn't, and sometimes lights flicker for no particular reason.

Yet these quirks almost work with this play, largely because of the degenerate nature of the characters: kleptomaniacs, druggies, gamblers, murderers. The simplicity of the set design - a couple of chairs and a makeshift curtain - focuses the audience's attention on the strength of the actors, where it most certainly belongs.

Sarah Ford Gorman plays Maggie, a depressed kleptomaniac attempting to regain control over her life through a 12-step program. Gorman shines as the lead female, bringing an electrifying energy and neuroticism to the stage. One wouldn't want to meet Maggie on the street, but Gorman manages to make a compulsive liar and thief sympathetic. She becomes the overeating, thieving delinquent with a heart of gold, and you find yourself hoping for her redemption.

Gorman's emotional trajectory plays wonderfully off of her admirer Paul (J Hargrove). Paul is a recovering klepto whose adoptive grandfather once ran the eponymous Den of Thieves, a troupe of Jewish safe robbers who donated all their profits to libraries. Hargrove does an excellent job playing the guy you pray will just get killed already. From his annoying nasally voice to his penchant for calling everyone an overeater, the self-righteous loudmouth isn't "ashamed to say I love me."

Christopher Kryzstofiak also brings ridiculousness to life as Flaco, Maggie's drug-dealing, jealous ex-boyfriend who tries to fight Paul while bound to a chair. And, oh man, is he bad. We'll forgive him for threatening Paul (who wouldn't?), but mugging a nun? Yet, despite a script that would depict Flaco as the fumbling jerk, Kryzstofiak manages to bring humanity to his character. In a surprisingly poignant monologue, Flaco justifies his criminality: It was tough and he did what he had to do. Despite the fact that he kicked that nun, you can't help but hope he'll jump on the 12-step bandwagon and clean up (or volunteer to die, thus redeeming himself).

The rest of the cast members have trouble keeping up with the three stars. Elizabeth Galuardi does a decent job as Boochie, Flaco's exotic-dancing, prostituting new girlfriend. But mobsters Little Tuna (Alexander Scally) and Big Tuna (David Padgett) could bring a lot more oomph to their roles. Despite attempting to be cool, gun-wielding wise guys, they play it soft, serving as mere sidekicks to the main characters. Peter Blaine's role as gambling addict henchman Sal is more than a little lackluster. His evil laugh sounds like a bad Saturday-morning cartoon villain. Given the opportunity to play a sociopathic lunatic, you really ought to run with it. Yell. Cackle. Speak up, because the footsteps upstairs are getting louder.

Den of Thieves isn't a perfect production, but the lead actors bring enough to make it good. Both their energetic physical comedy and good delivery of well-written lines keep the audience's attention. Despite being a play that, for the most part, has its main characters tied up sitting in a circle, it never gets dull. Glass Mind has proven itself a theater company worth watching.

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