Heist Play at the Ruckus: Theater review

A terrific setup is overwhelmed by noirish plot intricacies in the Ruckus's intriguing remount

 (Photograph: Zachary T. Webb)
1/5
Photograph: Zachary T. WebbNeal Starbird and Joshua Davis in Heist Play at the Ruckus
 (Photograph: Zachary T. Webb)
2/5
Photograph: Zachary T. WebbMike Steele and Neal Starbird in Heist Play at the Ruckus
 (Photograph: Zachary T. Webb)
3/5
Photograph: Zachary T. WebbChristine Vrem-Ydstie and Joshua Davisin Heist Play at the Ruckus
 (Photograph: Zachary T. Webb)
4/5
Photograph: Zachary T. WebbKarie Miller and Mike Steelein Heist Play at the Ruckus
 (Photograph: Zachary T. Webb)
5/5
Photograph: Zachary T. WebbCarmen Molina, Neal Starbird and Joshua Davisin Heist Play at the Ruckus
To riff on the old dictum by Chekhov—if a gun is placed onstage, it should be used—if a dead body is laid out in a play, the audience might want to find out where it came from. We never quite get a full account of the stiff that appears in this remount of Mitch Vermeersch’s revised play, a savvy homage to film noir that was first performed by the Ruckus in 2009. Granted, the noir genre trades in complexity and loose ends as much as it does dark shadows and endless drinking, the latter of which Heist Play has in spades.

Somewhere in contemporary Chicago, three aimless 30-year-olds—soft-spoken film buff Nick, his blustering buddy Tommy and Tommy’s girlfriend Marianne—struggle to pay rent while drinking it away, a scenario that suggests the post-college wanderers you’d find in Milwaukee Avenue bars more than the shadow-filled world of private dicks and double-crossing femme fatales. The trio hatches a plan right out of a noir flick, one that’s so compelling that they decide to turn the scheme into a screenplay instead. But when the heist turns into a writing experiment, so does the play, shifting gears in the second half to examine the interior desires and power plays in the trio’s crappy apartment and seedy bars, while two detectives and a mysterious man in a trench coat orbit around the mystery of that dead body.

The production's first act is entertaining and promising: Taut dialogue and elegant pacing subtly build tension that foreshadows satisfying plot twists and turns. And a band comprised of cast members plays the songs of Tom Waits as musical interludes, setting the right murky tone (and giving a helluva set during intermission). But the characters’ leap from static losers straight to grand larceny feels a tad implausible, though the actors (Joshua Davis, Neal Starbird and Christine Vrem-Ydstie), even while playing it soused during most of their stage time, give emotionally sincere and affecting performances, particularly Vrem-Ydstie as Marianne, who's batted around the story like a leaf on a windy street. The plot intricacies ultimately overpower the noirish sensibility that Vermeersch and director Allison Shoemaker are reaching for, and Heist Play, to parlay some of the hardboiled language that it adroitly uses, leaves us feeling conned.

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