5/22/2022          SWINDLERS                            Aurora Theatre


LIONS AND DIAMONDS AND CROOKS (OH MY!)

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So, a day after experiencing the profoundly moving and dramatic play that is Lisa Loomer’s Roe, I wended my way Lawrenceville-ward for some decidedly lighter fare, a world premier farce called Swindlers.  Was I ever ready for a desperate romp through slamming doors, exposed lingerie, and people behaving badly.  I was ready for some tear-inducing belly-laughs.

 

Maybe I was expecting too much.  Although Swindlers is very professionally produced (with a few exceptions noted below),  although it was nicely performed – all the actors sink their hungry farce-teeth into the scenery and find more than a few opportunities for genuinely silly moments -- I found the play itself curiously lacking, evoking smiles more than belly-laughs, quizzical WTF reactions rather than a wallow in the desperations of the badly-behaved.

 

Onto a gorgeously built and decorated Miami mansion (designed by the always talented Julie Ray) burst a pair of burglars, literal second-story men, planning to take advantage of the empty rooms to score some quick booty.  They should have done better homework.  Not only is the owner still at home, he is, in fact, lying dead in an upstairs room.  Murdered!  It isn’t long before our hapless burglars are pretending to be the homeowners as a party is in the offing and the guests are arriving.  The guests include a comely young woman (and yes, the younger (incredibly dim-bulb) burglar instantly falls in lust with her), a Cuban caterer with an accent thicker than her bouillabaisse, the young lady’s fiancé (a tall strapping hunk of a man with a preference for {deleted by the spoiler police}), a middle-eastern magnate who is used to getting his way (accompanied by a body guard who is larger than any human has a right to be), and a garishly dressed rock and roll gazillionaire who wears his eccentricity as if it were a private jet.  

Did I mention the (mostly) silent violinist?   Or the lion roaming the back yard?

 

I know I didn’t mention the diamond as large as a fist that everyone seems to know about except the burglars.

 

Okay, this is a farce, so I didn’t expect too much depth of characterization, but did they all have to be such blatant caricatures and stereotypes?  I expected some dim-bulb stupidity from some characters, but did they ALL have to be so bloody clueless?  I expected some danger, some peril for the characters to avoid, but ...   Well, lets just say there are more bodies piled up at the end than for a production of Titus Andronicus.  Well, not really, but there are few survivors here.

 

When a character drops trou to reveal garish speedos, it’s an expected element of farce.  When the second character does that, it’s just tiresome.

 

When one character turns out to be not what we thought, it’s a shock and a surprise.  When the third character does that, it’s just tiresome.

 

When one character thought to be dead suddenly rises and kills another, it’s a shock and a surprise.  When the fourth character does that, it’s just tiresome.

 

And when the nefarious plan is revealed to be a cockamamie colonization of interstellar space ... well, by then, I’d already given up on any connection to reality.

 

I suspect that’s the root of my disappointment in this play.  I always think farce has to have some connection to reality (albeit tenuously and often far-fetched) to truly work.  To accept the bad behavior, you have to find some reason, be it charm or humor or whatever, to LIKE the character.  There is truly no one to like here, despite the best efforts of the talented cast to make them likeable.

 

It  doesn’t help that when Cuddles the Lion makes their entrance, it is via a cheap costume shop pantomime paw that looks as threatening as a toddler’s Halloween costume.  It doesn’t help that when one character loses an arm, the fake costume is so badly constructed and bulky you wonder how they suddenly became pregnant,

 

It doesn’t help that, after the midway point of the play, the laughter becomes almost non-existent.  The smiles soon follow.

 

I do think there is a lot of potential here.  Farce is a very needed commodity these days, and I hope this isn’t the playwright’s final draft.  There are even a few pointed topical references that should have worked (and could possibly be tweaked to work) a lot better,  There is nothing wrong here that can’t be fixed by a few more trips through the word processor.  Any rewrite would have to include a lot fewer dead people, some charm to make us like the main characters (especially the burglars Jerry and Miles).  It wouldn’t hurt making the eccentricities of Jeremiah Clive more organically fun and not “this is how rich people misbehave” polemical.  The diamond is an effective McGuffin, and its final reveal is especially clever, so no changes there.  The lion is best kept off stage, or more in the dark (negating the need for the fake-looking paw and the complicated break-away door).  The violinist is a nicely absurd touch, but, if you’re going to call her silent, you should probably keep her silent.  Her final reveal may even be more effective for that.

 

And I did like most of this cast – René Granado and Mark Hernandez are perfectly fine as the burglars Jerry and Miles, Tamil Periasamy is a hoot ad Awadi Hassan (and I don’t blame him for loving the sound of his own name – it does flow off the tongue very nicely), and Chris Kayser is off-the-hook as the outrageous gazillionaire, Jeremiah Clive.  Real violinist Irina Vasquez makes for an effective Bertica (the silent violinist) and Rose Bianco is fiery and flashy as Marisleidy, the caterer.

 

I would note here that there is an uncredited cameo at the end by a character played by ... well, I’m sure you can figure it out.  But by the time they make an entrance, the engine of the plot has lost its steam, and I, for one, just rolled my eyes at their entrance.

 

The playwright is a talented Latinx 2nd-Gen American who should be commended for writing roles for Lantinx actors and for filling a farce with characters Americans only get to see in movies.  And, like I said, Swindlers has potential.  But farce is a very risky genre – if it misses, even slightly, as I think it does here, the results can be memorable in a way that is, shall we say, not at all desirable.  If nothing else, it should be a Nascar-engine of energy that never lags, and to its credit, the play comes it at a brisk intermissionless 80 minutes,  But it should be noted that I had to leave about an hour into it for a bathroom break (old man, full bladder, the math isn’t hard) of about two minutes, and it didn’t seem like I missed a beat of plot.  That is just too much “filler” that far into the play.

 

As it is now, I just felt that Swindlers cheated me out of the afternoon of fun I was sincerely hoping for,

 

  --  Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol,com, #atSwindlers)