Joel Jones, Karl Kenzler, Ron McClary and
Jeffrey C. Hawkins
Company Theatre – more widely known by its acronym TACT – was started 25 years
ago by a group of professional actors to reclaim in concert readings “great
plays of literary merit.” Over the years it also branched out into seasons of
full Off-Broadway productions and included a smattering of new works into its
Now, as it
must with all good things, TACT is bringing down its final curtain, and it’s
doing so in light-hearted fashion, with a bauble of a new comedy, derived from
two stories by the master of New York-ese patois and creator of some of the
city’s most colorful streetwise and demimonde characters, Damon Runyon
characters are best remembered today for inhabiting Frank Loesser’s classic
musical Guys and Dolls. However, this new script, Three Wise Guys,
co-written by Scott Alan Evans, TACT’s artistic executive director, and Jeffrey
Couchman, provides a tasty slice of that quality known as Runyonesque.
Runyon stories involved are Dancing Dan’s Christmas and The Three
Wise Guys. The play is set on Christmas Eve, 1932, and the titular fellows
are the aforementioned Dancing Dan (Jeffrey C. Hawkins), a charmer of a
small-time hood more known for his dancing ability than his underworld doings;
Blondy Swanson (Karl Kenzler), a retired bootlegger, and The Dutchman (Joel
Jones), a veteran burglar deep in debt to his bookie. Don’t worry, though,
they’re all lovable types.
life is threatened by one of the town’s top bootleggers, the not-so-lovable
Heine Schmitt, (Heine has a thing for Dan’s doll), the three decide it’s time
to leave New York for a place Dutchman knows in Pennsylvania. But before they
can do it, they get waylaid into participating as Santa Clause and his elves at
a Long Island society party, where further complications ensue. And still more
twists happen, when they finally get on the road to Pennsylvania.
The show is
not exactly the madcap caper it may well intend to be. In its 80 intermission-less
minutes of running time, it squeezes in more plot than laugh lines, including
that familiar Christmas Eve turn of events: the birth of a baby.
Still, it’s a
likeable entertainment, thanks in large part to an ingratiating cast, and
Evans’ light but imaginative hand as director of the show as well as its
co-writer. Hawkins, Jones and Kenzler slip into their Runyonesque skins as if
to the manor (or rather, manner) born.
are Ron McClary and John Plumpis, both handling a variety of roles. McClary
goes from a friendly speakeasy bartender to a harried and veddy English
butler and finally, a kindly country doctor in ultra-convincing fashion. John
Plumpis is a threatening Heine Schmitt, while also making appearances as the
butler’s equally English brother, a smarmy police witness and an understanding
highway cop. Smartly aiding the transformations are the costumes by David Toser
and wig design by Robert-Charles Vallance.
distaff side, Victoria Mack brings girlie charm both to Muriel, the chorus girl
who’s Dan’s heartthrob, and to Clarabelle Cobb, a former chorus girl and the
lost love of Blondy’s life. Dana Smith-Croll gets laughs as the uppity Long
Island party hostess and also as Muriel’s ancient grandma, who still hangs up
a Christmas stocking in hopes that Saint Nick will soon be there.
proceedings are enlivened with several theatrical flourishes, most notably the
shadow play and puppetry that help dramatize the script’s several bits of
exposition. On a couple of occasions, the guys also favor us with a dollop of
well-harmonized singing. The clothes line motif that covers Jason
Ardizzone-West’s otherwise evocative set design at the show’s start is
problematic, but the hanging sheets prove useful in providing for the
silhouetted action of the expository moments.
In short, Three
Wise Guys may not be a “great” play, but with its homage to Runyon it can
lay claim to TACT’s credo of doing plays of “literary merit.” Furthermore, it
should leave the company’s final audiences with smiles on their faces.
The Beckett Theatre at Theatre Row
410 West 42nd