When I was approached to write a review for Theatre-on-the-Hill’s Den of Thieves, my first instinct was to wait until the second weekend of performances so I could compare and contrast actors in the roles that were double cast. But when I asked about deadlines it was brought to my attention the intent of the review was in the hope to bring in a larger audience for the remaining three weekends of performances.
So, below is the original idea that I had for a review for Theatre-on-the-Hill‘s production of Den of Thieves. There are notable differences between my original review and what was ultimately sent out to TribLocal as an official review, but the spirit of the review is still there for the most part. Which one do you like more?
Author’s Note: I will be posted my thoughts about various other productions that I saw in the past few years just to keep for posterity. Anything that is legitimate will be notated with an all capitalized REVIEW, whileas anything that is just my thoughts would simply be Review. Capeesh?
If there was $750K stashed in a basement office safe just begging to be stolen, and no one but a “bunch of stupid idiots” can mess this up, would you do it? What if you were trying to give up a life of crime and larceny, would you fall off the bandwagon for a crack at the stash?
This is the question posed in Theatre-on-the-Hill’s autumn production of Stephen Alan Guirgis’ Den of Thieves. Directed by Craig J Engel, Den of Thieves manipulates a group of small time crooks into stealing three quarters of a million dollars from a basement safe of a disco inTribeca,New York. What the thieves do not realize is that they are in fact stealing from the Pescatore mob family.
Bill Smith is imposing as patriarch Al “The Big Tuna” Pescatore, scaring off not only the thieves, but his own son and nephew as well. With a spring in his step after a quick trip to Vegas and an eye for anything beautiful, Bill chastises everyone else as a parent would a child, except far more entertaining.
What his son Louis “The Little Tuna” Pescatore played by Cameron Nowicki, lacks in intimidation he makes up in spunkiness that one would not expect when he appears on stage. Inheriting his father’s eye for anything beautiful, Cameron is a constant bag of tricks that just keeps on treating. Whether he is chastising his babysit—or rather bodyguard, Sallie, or trying to serenade one of the thieves (at least he’s not impersonating Mariah Carey), Cameron is a riot to watch.
And then there is newcomer Jason Gavin… who caught the acting itch after watching his children participate in TOTH’s summer musical production. He is formidable and frightening as Sallie ‘Nads, whether he’s torturing the small-time crooks or attempting to one-up “The Little Tuna”, he brings a swagger and a confidence in his acting that one would not expect to see in a theoretical novice.
Of course, no mob related story would be complete without the stripper, in this case Boochie as played by newcomer Seneca Lee Evensen. As she struts, shimmies and flirts with virtually everybody in the cast (she doesn’t hold back either), it is easy to see that she has a performance background, even if she’s new to theatre, she has a stage presence that is just simply a breath of fresh air at worst and intoxicating at best.
Her female competition comes in the form of mousy, self-deprecating, recovering thief Maggie, as played by TOTH newcomer Lori Rohr. Lori brings so much emotion, spirit and soul into Maggie that you cannot help but be drawn into her life and story. Whether she is talking about the ex-boyfriend that she walked away from and still cares about or trying create a better life for herself, Maggie is the character that the audience could not help but relate to because, Maggie is the truest reflection of the human condition.
Maggie’s sponsor in everything compulsive – be it theft, overeating, alcohol, or tobacco – is Paul as portrayed by TOTH newcomer Paul Garrison. Paul is incredibly versatile not only as an actor, but in the character that he portrays. Whether he is pleading for his life, mocking other characters, Paul needles into everyone else in a way that is lovable and annoying all at once. Paul is the preacher that you either love, or love to hate, or both and that makes him all the more enjoyable to watch.
The reason that this theft goes down comes in the form of a white boy, Puerto Rican poser Flaco, as portrayed by Adam Krause. Adam brings a sense of humanity and hope to a character that could very easily have been one dimensional. By creating a character with layers and love, the audience grows to appreciate, understand, and relate to someone that by all intents and purposes should not have been relatable.
When Maggie, Paul and Boochie all sign up for Flaco’s over-the-top scheme, by sheer power of persuasion, you know what is going to happen next. However, what makes this show a joy to watch is Craig’s directorial interpretation of the journey the characters travel as they attempt a scheme, argue their way out of their doomed situation, and have buckets of fun while doing it.
What makes Craig J Engel’s direction unique is how he takes a mix of veteran actors and newcomers and brings out not just the best of their acting ability, but expands and enhances it in such a way that everything excels in their roles. He takes everyone under their wing and works with them as a group or one-on-one to bring out the best performance that he can from each and every one of the actors because in the end they all make up a piece of the biggest picture, or in this case the show.
The best part of this show? The audience will enjoy the journey right along with the characters and laugh at their expense, because quite honestly, why would you want to steal $750K that seems almost too easy to screw up?