Once a Thief, always a Thief?
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by BWW News Desk
Last night I checked out Stephen Adly Guirgis' Den of Thieves at the American Theatre of Actors on West 54th Street. Running now through August 29th, Den of Thieves is a journey of self-awareness and acceptance. Maggie, a recovering shoplifter, is struggling to make it through her most current twelve-step program that she knows she is bound to fail. Just when she thinks she has turned a corner, she and her sponsor, Paul (a former safe cracker himself), are drawn into what seems to be an idiot-proof job by her drug dealing ex-boyfriend, Flaco, and his stripper girlfriend, Boochie.
Of course, an idiot proof job never goes right when it is run by idiots. Even I, sitting in the third row, could predict that the idea of $750,000 in unprotected drug money when first presented was as plausible as pigs flying. As expected, everything goes wrong and soon this group of dysfunctional losers is faced with a life-changing moment. The vulnerability of Maggie and her friends are slowly revealed, forcing them to face and finally deal with who they really are.
I became concerned with the production upon reading the press release. Glen Hagen Theatrical, a newly created theatrical Production Company, actually publicizes that they chose this show because it was "easily manageable." Last time I checked, you produce a show because you're passionate about it. It was evident that this show was managed as opposed to directed, because conceptually it was as cold as a January evening in midtown.
The script wasn't perfect, but its potential far outweighed its faults. Although the characters weren't written to the top of their intelligence, they were each allowed to have moments of incredible personal discovery. That's a rarity, even for the glossiest of productions a couple of blocks south.
Nonetheless, this current production of Den of Thieves seems to just play at the ideas Guirgis strove for, as opposed to delving in and dissecting them. The actors seemed to be directed to play stereotypes as opposed to inhabiting fully developed beings. This was kind of ironic and probably the funniest part of the show, being that it was intended to be a play about getting to the truth of oneself. The most insulting stereotype by far (at least for me) was the Mafioso types. I describe them as types, because they were boiled down to pasty-chomping, track suit wearing "mooks." I've seen this already... when it was called season one of "The Sopranos".
Another frustrating Directorial decision was the misuse of space. The Chernuchin Theatre (located within the American Theatre of Actors) is a space with limitless potential...even if both arms of my chair were falling off. Ninety-eight percent of all the action took place center stage. It was a bit of a bummer.
The standout by far was Wesley Curtis, who against all odds pulled out a wonderfully honest portrayal of Paul, Maggie's sponsor and recovering safe cracker. He was able to strike a really lovely balance between admitting his true self and hitting some super funny comic moments. Mr. Curtis was truly a humorous pleasure to watch.
Den of Thieves is a show with some potential but ultimately misses the mark.