It’s easy to get conned into thinking what you think you see is all there is to see. Con artists—and I do mean artists—and magicians depend on your believing what you take in is reliable, even “reality.” That’s the premise of Do the Hustle now playing at Writers’ Theatre until March 20.
Don’t be conned. On the surface, it’s a story about two con men--hustlers, grifters—take your pick. No question about it. There's the story of Eddie Sisson and his son, Sam, and their hapless victims, er, "marks."
- But there’s also us, the audience. Whose story do we believe? Is Sam just one of the many people whom his cynical father uses? Do you buy his sad sack story about his difficult childhood or is that his own con? Is it possible that Sam is even craftier than his old man? How do you as a member of the audience, an “objective observer,” feel about Eddie? Does he con because he can, like a cobra that hypnotizes its prey before killing them. Or is his mark a peer and they're both "rascals?"
This is the dynamic that is created by Brett Neveu’s artistry under the the thoughtful direction of William Brown. The totally engrossing performances of Patrick Andrews as the possibly conflicted, possibly ambitious son, Sam, coupled with the ruthless but somewhat amiable father played (played! after a while you forget you’re watching a play) by Francis Guinan is riveting.
And I’m not talking about the slight of hand tricks, deftly executed though they were. Third-generation magician and slight of hand consultant Dennis Watkins taught Andrews and Guinan some inscrutable moves. Even the old "Do you have change for a twenty?" scam was too fast to follow.
I’m talking about the mind games everybody in the cast plays with and on one another and somehow rope you in, too. For starters, Sam and Eddie are the only actors who stay in character. Joe Minoso and Karen Janes Woditsch play all the other roles, suggesting that everybody plays roles to get what they want or need or greed in life.
Are Eddie and Sam the predators we think they are or is Do The Hustle a metaphor for life? Are their “marks” exploited or is this all just a game? Self-defense? That’s just what Eddie, Sam and Bernie Madoff want you to think. They think they win because they’re smart and fearless. It’s not called a confidence game for nothing.
Do I suggest you see it? Absolutely, but see it with someone who will discuss it with you, look deep into the con game that is operating like a 3-dimensional shell game. One minute you think you understand and then come the doubts.
The entire production is first-rate and takes full advantage of the intimate theater space. This is, after all, a very intimate production:
- Kevin Depinet's Scenic Design is just right. Though minimalist, there's enough to put you right in the act, set the mood and involve you in the con.
- And ah, the
Lighting Design! Take a look at the picture of Eddie in a thoughtful moment and notice how the light plays on his face.
It's a perfect example of Charles Cooper's masterful lighting.
- All the characters totally looked their part thanks to
Rachel Anne Healy's Costume Design. The duct tape on the "pleather" jacket was an ingenious touch.
Performances are January 25-March 20, 2011.
- Curtain times are Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m (except no 7:30 performance on Wednesday, February 9);
- Thursdays and Fridays 8:00 p.m.;
- Saturdays at 4:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. There will be no 6:00 p.m. performance on March 20.
- Wednesday matinees will be performed at 2:00 p.m. on February 9 and March 16.
- Tickets are $45-$65 and are available at the Box Office, 376 Park Avenue, Glencoe; 847-242-6000 or online at www.writerstheatre.org.
- Photos: Writers' Theatre, Michael Brosilow