Comparison: TOTH’s Den of Thieves (three weekends later)

So by the time of this writing I have seen seven (and a half) out of eight showings of Bolingbrook’s Theatre-on-the-Hill‘s production of Den of Thieves. One would think that after the first one or two shows, or even three in this case I would be sick of seeing this show already. The truth of the matter is, I’m not.

For someone with a little bit of theatre background, I can honestly say that seeing shows multiple times does not bore me as one would probably expect. More often than not it is a combination of a good script, with fantastic direction, and amazing actors that would typically drive the average theatre goer into seeing a production multiple times.

In the case of Den of Thieves, not only were there three versions of the show to watch but live theatre brings to the table an element of unpredictability that you can’t find anywhere else.

Where else would you find Hugh Jackman blowing up at an audience member for a cell phone going off in the middle of A Steady Rain? Where else could you find mishaps go wrong and watch an actor really show off their acting chops AND improv skills at a drop of a pin?

However, coming to a show in hopes to see something out of the ordinary happen isn’t exactly the best reason to watch a production multiple times. So again, why do it? Quite simply, to watch the cast grow and improve overall, as well as see them grow into their characters with every passing performance.

The newcomers: Seneca Lee Evensen (Boochie), Jason Gavin (Sallie Nads), and Paul Garrison (Paul Abraham Handleman); for example will undoubtedly show the most improvement as they go from performance to performance.

Seneca has learned to fill in the empty spaces when the focus is not on her. Her monologue this second weekend is filled with so much more emotion, that you find yourself almost rooting for the character, even if she was playing you as a fiddle. As an audience member you can’t help but be drawn to her almost to the point that you forget that this is Seneca and you start to see and believe that is Boochie. For myself, she is just scraping the surface of melting into her character to the point that you don’t know when Seneca ends and where Boochie begins.

Jason Gavin has always been Sallie Nads for me, incredibly menacing, having way too much fun torturing the “protagonists”, and an all around crazy mafia goon. But his reaction when he came out with a chainsaw only for it to stutter when he tried to start it was priceless… going so far as to say that, “it didn’t work, boss.” For a newcomer, he did an incredibly good job keeping to character, even through mishaps. This is someone that I would be more than willing to see in future shows.

Paul is also one of those actors that almost exactly IS the character that he is portraying. Though at one point during the run he was almost over-acting, he reigned it in enough to give the character just enough punch and fun when interacting with other characters without going terribly overboard. Paul, one of the most visible characters on the show, is also probably the most… stable (is there such a thing with this show)? The actor never fails to amaze me with his acting, though inconsistent at times towards the beginning, he is finally feeling his stride and I cannot wait to see what he brings to the table at the end of the run.

Seeing so many incredibly talented newcomers in a production makes it that much more fun to see how they grow not only as actors, but into their roles as well. To the point that they blend in so well with the veterans that it is rather difficult to distinguish who the veterans are versus the newcomers.

One of Bolingbrook’s finest, Bill Smith (Al “The Big Tuna” Pescatore), though only seen in the last ten minutes of the show, single-handedly steals the show. With so many one liners and funny facial expressions, he brings such an incredible sense of stage presence that you cannot help but feel the compulsive need to obey him for fear of your life. While at the other side of the coin, Cameron Nowicki (Lou “The Little Tuna” Pescatore) plays up Little Tuna so much that you can’t help but laugh at his interpretation of the character. Spunky and sarcastic, it was a real treat seeing how much he has changed from the start of the production to the end.

Of course, you have your veterans: Lori Rohr (Maggie) and Adam Krause (Flaco) whose consistency and energy to the production night after night, brings a sense of stability and cohesiveness to the show and gives the rest of the actors something to strive for. With the bar set so incredibly high, it would seem like these actors have no where to go but down… instead, night after night, they are still raising the bar not just for themselves but for the production as a whole.

If there is one thing that I could say about these two veterans it is that they bring so much of themselves into their characters that three weekends later it is impossible to know where the actor ends and the character begins. As easy as it could have been to play off their respective roles as one-dimensional, neither of them do so and instead bring such a sense of a realism into their characters that the audience can relate and grab on to.

It is an honor to see the show as many times as I have and being able to see each of the actors grow before my eyes. They didn’t just grow as actors (which undoubtedly the fantastic direction of Craig Engel aided in) but they grew into their characters to the point that their characters will leave an indelible mark in their lives after the show.

With one weekend remaining, the majority of the cast (with the addition of Jacqueline Schultz and Joseph Mennella) will have three more performances to drive the show home. Here’s hoping that they will hit not just one home run, but three… and I intend to be there to watch it happen… and yes: All Three Shows.

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