The con game, and specifically the desire to pull off one last epic play, is nothing new to American storytelling. With the world premiere of Brett Neveu’s "Do the Hustle," the con comes crashing onto the Writers’ Theatre’s initimate Glencoe stage.
While the one-act drama delivers intensity and splendid performances from a quartet of actors, the play ultimately leaves one wanting more than the dark, soulless lives inhabiting the stage. Everything’s twisted. Everything’s a con. And more questions emerge than answers, precisely how Neveu may have intended it.
The story centers on the father-son hustling team of Eddie (Francis Guinan) and Sam Sisson (Patrick Andrews). Sam, nearing his 18th birthday, itches to strike out on his own; Eddie, a single father since Sam’s kindergarten years, would like his son under his thumb a while longer. Together, the tandem’s pulling one last con.
Set against a Chicago winter as frigid as the father-son relationship, the duo’s hustling knows no boundaries. From Sam’s mother and grandmother (both played by Karen Janes Woditsch) to a well-intentioned nonprofit worker and corner diner cashier (two roles played with simplicity and style by Joe Minoso), nobody is beyond the duo’s con games. The roller coaster final con, set at an urban convenience store with guns, cash, and envelopes swapping hands, highlights the play’s edgy, rugged thrill as well as Neveu’s inventiveness. It’s downright brilliant.
While there’s a clear and compelling authenticity to Neveu’s writing and the actors’ collective work as well as a realism that pulls the audience into the moment, the drama struggles with dimension and movement. For much of the 85 minutes, Eddie and Sam move from one con to the next, a stinging existence only interrupted by cursing, piercing dialogue between the two, including repetitive arguments about Sam’s childhood and the con game’s necessary qualities. Most characters, Eddie and Sam leading the charge, are filled with pessimism and paranoia. Truth and any sense of calm remains elusive if not fully absent.
We see in the Sisson men the same greed and moral void that pushed Enron execs
and Bernie Madoff. The desire for one more dollar, one more smarter-than-thou moment. It’s an intriguing and dark look into the human mind. Eddie notes that he only sees two types in the world — marks and cops. It seems no way to live, no way to think. And yet, such a mindset remains active in today’s world — as much in corner offices as street corners. If nothing else, "Do the Hustle" reminds us of that disheartening reality.
"Do the Hustle," suited for mature teen and adult audiences, runs at the Writers’
Theatre, 325 Tudor Court in Glencoe, through March 20, 2011. Shows are at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday; 8:00 p.m. on Thursday and Friday; 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturday; and 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Sunday. Beginning Feb.
16, Wednesday evening shows include a post-show discussion with the artistic staff and actors. Tickets range from $45-65. For additional information, call the box office at 847-242-6000 or visit www.writerstheatre.org.