Compromised by Fits and Starts

But Horovitz’s play reaches neither the dramatic heights nor the philosophical depths of these other works. While much of the blame should be laid at the playwright’s feet, the folks at the Firehouse don’t do him many favors with this production either. Jim Hillgartner plays medical researcher Aaron Keyes. He has a daughter Rebecca (Jen Meharg), whom he rarely sees, and a housekeeper, Alice (Diana Carver), who is more a friend for hire than a maid. His assistant Thomas (d.l. Hopkins) is Alice’s son and possibly Rebecca’s lover. Aaron is on the threshold of a career-defining breakthrough when his life suddenly seems to spin out of control: His estranged alcoholic wife lands in the hospital, and Thomas unloads a backlog of resentment on him in a wide-ranging tirade.

While the pieces of something intriguing are here, the drama erupts only in fits and starts; no two scenes flow together smoothly, and most of the big moments fall flat. Part of the problem lies in the show’s technology: Aaron makes regular video diary entries that provide clunky chunks of exposition, and all communication with Rebecca is through instant messages projected on a screen above the stage. Hillgartner’s performance is disorganized and uneven, while Hopkins (possibly hampered by a cold) never really inhabits his character. Meharg’s performance might be the best of the four, but it’s also partially obscured by a screen throughout the play. Carver has a few nice moments near the end, but she can’t rescue a production as compromised as this one. S

“Compromise” plays at Firehouse Theatre, 1609 W. Broad St., Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. through March 25. Tickets are $10-$20. Call 355-2001.

Not So Fast: Firehouse gets early whack at “Fast Hands”

The boxer, a 37-year-old named Tony “Tiny” Whitaker (d. l. Hopkins), appears at a New York gym. Ike Mellis (Bill Patton), the grizzled gym manager, takes his money but not his guff. After considerable verbal sparring, we discover that Tiny has tracked down Ike following the death of his mother. His resentment has the potential to explode into violence towards his father, but soon the two begin reconciliation.

The script has one significant weakness. It’s never clear why Tiny should become a better boxer after meeting his father. When Ike tells Tiny to focus his anger into a punching bag, it appears to be the start of some serious Oedipal manipulation. But we find out later that Tiny used that tactic long before he confronted Ike. And since they soon become so comfortable around one another, it’s difficult to imagine how the kill-the-father visualization trick is going to work anyway.

There are no further nuggets of coaching wizardry to come. Tiny, in fact, reveals far more technical knowledge of the fight game than his dad. There’s nothing like the combination of taunts and technique Burgess Meredith put into the character of Mickey in “Rocky.”

However, the actors certainly have the look and talk down. Hopkins’ athletic grace — not to mention the gap between his front teeth — transforms Tiny into a believable journeyman fighter. Patton has the mannerisms of a quarrelsome trainer at the end of his career. And though Stephen W. Ryan is a bit miscast as the connected gym owner Fungi, he brings an oiliness to the role.

It’s not often that Richmond theatergoers get a crack at a work from such an eminent playwright that so few people have seen. Horovitz’s dialogue has the rhythm and punch of a master craftsman. The back-and-forth jabs are punctuated with sly humor. And there’s one clever nuance: Ike speaks as an illiterate wise guy. His college-educated son has a more polished way of speaking. As they spend time together, Tiny begins to pick up his father’s speech, including an aversion to contractions.

Taking advantage of the high-speed dialogue, Director Morrie Piersol dials up the pace. Unfortunately, all three characters seem to run at the exact same speed with almost no variation. The play too often skips along the surface without allowing us moments to absorb the meaning beneath the lines.

Steve Gerlach’s dark and grungy set is accented by Tiny’s red boxing gloves at the opening of the play. The transitions between gym and ring are seamless. David McLain’s lights are particularly effective during the fight scenes.

“Fast Hands” has the raw material of a top-flight play within it. But it’s missing some of the emotional underpinnings – and, frankly, the brutality — that might turn it into a contender. Like the D’Amato-Tyson story, it’s not the gritty fairy tale it might’ve been. S

“Fast Hands” continues through Nov. 23 at the Firehouse Theatre, 1609 W. Broad St. Tickets cost $20 and can be reserved by calling 355-2001.

Cold Calls: Desperate salesmen squirm in this compelling production of Mamet’s classic.

 

David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Glengarry Glen Ross,” now playing at the Firehouse Theatre Project, lets you know what life is like on the other side of the telephone line. And it’s not pretty.
Mamet’s play about real estate salesmen in Chicago during the late 1980s was made into a star-studded, award-winning movie in the ’90s. While it might seem daunting to follow such critical acclaim, director Morrie Piersol gives the audience a fresh look at this cinematic classic. The fast pace and high pressure of a sales competition become the equivalent of social Darwinism as desperate salesmen plan to rob the sales leads from their own office in order to make those sales. Stage manager Elizabeth Ward and scene designers Scott Creighton and David McLain create a set that at once echoes and accentuates the materialistic, cannibal sales culture at the heart of Mamet’s play.Like all of Mamet’s plays, the dialogue virtually sings with truth. It not only captures the reality of the characters’ situation, it allows the audience a glimpse into their lives. The lines of the characters overlap one another; they jump in on each other’s sentences; and often one character finishes another’s thoughts. This is pulled off skillfully in Act One during an intense exchange between the salesmen Dave Moss (d.l. Hopkins) and George Aaranow (Christopher Dunn). Both actors give wonderful performances as they rapidly vent their frustrations with their boss and the sheer hopelessness of their jobs. Hopkins and Dunn rifle through a near-surgical exchange that voices both their characters’ desperation and their back-stabbing natures.

While the play traces the pathetic fall of Shelly Levene (Rick Warner), it is really the performance of Justin Dray as Richard Roma that steals the show. Warner does a respectable job as the desperate salesman on a career-ending losing streak. However, his interplay with the other actors is rather flat throughout the production. Dray, on the other hand, is on-target for the entirety. Whether he is gently persuading the gullible James Lingk (Harry Kollatz Jr.) into purchasing a property or espousing his philosophy about the sales profession, Dray is always able to capture the Zenlike calm of a salesman at the top of his game.

Written in the ’80s, “Glengarry Glen Ross” champions the theme of the decade: A consumer culture ultimately consumes and destroys itself. Now, in the light of Enron and the whole Internet start-up debacle, this theme seems to ring true 20 years later. While the play does show the salesman’s side of the story, it is a story filled with fear, anxiety and immorality. So after seeing the show you still might not want to be nice to telemarketers. In fact, you might not want to answer the phone at all. S

“Glengarry Glen Ross” runs Thursday-Sunday through March 17 at the Firehouse Theatre, 1609 W. Broad St. Tickets cost $15. 355-2001