The East End Plays
nytheatre.com review by Josephine Cashman
October 30, 2005
The characters in Criminals in Love struggle with an impending sense of doom. They grapple with their feeling that their lives are locked into predestined outcomes, and that despite their struggle, they will end up becoming exactly what they don’t want to be. Written by George F. Walker, and currently running in rep with other plays from his "East End" series of plays at the Sightlines Theatre Company, the play is a thoughtful and funny look at a couple caught up in a web of family, love, and crime.
Set in a depressed area of an urban sprawl, the play centers around Junior, an earnest young man (wonderfully played by Franklin Clay Boyd), who is trying to escape his family’s criminal connections and looks to his girlfriend Gail, (Lila Donnolo), to rescue him from his fate. When Junior visits his father in jail, his father uses both physical and emotional violence to coerce him into helping his uncle. Enter the local philosopher-poet- alcoholic bum William, who befriends Junior and eagerly joins in the fray because he believes that he can save Junior and Gail from their fate. David Colacci plays William as an avenging angel with a filthy face, and his attempts to rescue Junior are both funny and touching.
This trio meets up with Wineva, Junior’s common-law aunt (Melanie Rey), who is Junior’s first introduction into this world of crime. Rey is a highlight of the show, managing to be both hilarious and menacing at the same time. With her brash and brassy bullying, she forces them into a life of crime. It’s all a marvelous and almost madcap caper as Junior, Gail, and William discover that incompetents and idiots run the mafia they’ve been coerced into joining. Boyd as Junior is quite funny as he discovers that his father is not the only inept criminal in his crazy family. All the characters resist the pull of their “destiny,” and yet find themselves inexplicably drawn into a humorous and all-too-human fate. Walker brings up some interesting and provocative points about destiny, family, fate, and love.
The first half of the play is comical and surprisingly touching, but the second half devolves into a long diatribe about class struggle, which literally becomes class warfare. Here, director Eileen Phelan seems more concerned delivering the social message of the play, rather than trusting the actors and the text to let the message speak for itself. Instead she bogs down the actors with a heavy-handed and overly sober delivery about the social injustices of the world.
The ensemble acting is terrific, but the coarse set by Ryan Kravetz seems to hinder the actors, as the scene changes are unnecessarily complicated, clumsy and long. Phelan is adept at creating compelling pictures on the stage, but struggles to pull all the pieces together into a coherent whole. Nonetheless, the costuming by Cady Zuckerman and lighting by Evan O’Brient add to the brilliant pictures, and makes for a visual feast. The fight choreography by David Brimmer is terrific and chilling, providing a remarkable counterpoint to the comedy of the play.
Criminals in Love is a wonderful play and the actors are engaging in their roles and, for the most part, this makes for a fun night of theatre.