“Nothing can go wrong,” says Flaco, the ringleader of what might be the most foolproof heist ever planned.
In “Den of Thieves,” the task of stealing $750,000 from a local disco seems a breeze. Two hours later, his plan has unraveled like a cheap sweater.
The fun of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ play, which made its regional premiere last weekend in a vibrant new SF Playhouse production, is seeing how many ways Flaco and his crew can bungle the job. But there’s more at work in this alert screwball comedy than formula or simple farce.
The play begins in the New York apartment of Maggie (a bright Kathryn Tkel), a kleptomaniac and compulsive overeater who’s just returned from a shoplifting binge. She’s even lifted the wallet of her 12-step sponsor, a recovering thief named Paul (a nerdy Casey Jackson), who’s come to talk her down and return the stolen goods.
Then Flaco (Chad Deverman), Maggie’s jealous ex-boyfriend, arrives with the plan: They’ll knock over the disco and divide the cash.
With the addition of Flaco’s new squeeze, a dim-bulb exotic dancer (Corinne Proctor as Boochie), the heist team is complete.
Of course, it all goes horribly wrong.
Act 2 opens in the basement of the disco, where Flaco and friends have been taken hostage by the mob.
The boss (Joe Madero as Big Tuna) has left his soft-hearted son (Ashkon Davaran as Little Tuna) and sadistic sidekick, Sal (Peter Ruocco), in charge. If Sal, armed with guns and a chainsaw, is willing to kill them all, Little Tuna doesn’t quite have the nerve.
One of them must die, he announces, but they have until morning to decide amongst themselves who it will be.
What follows is a kind of long comic night of the soul. As Flaco, Maggie, Paul and Boochie debate their fate, the play turns to themes of redemption and recovery.
Guirgis — whose plays “Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train” and “Our Lady of 121st Street” were hits for this company in past seasons — defies expectations once again.
Director Susi Damilano and her design team — Bill English (sets), Lucas Krech (lights), Lorin King (sound) and Bree Hylkema (costumes) — keep the action moving at a crisp pace while allowing the actors plenty of time to establish dimension.
Deverman’s on-the-edge Flaco is especially strong, but each actor gives a fine performance, and Guirgis — despite some well-placed digs at 12-step culture — seems to suggest that even the most unrepentant deserve another chance.
“Den of Thieves” is almost good enough to make you believe it; in the end, no one in the play gets what they came for, but everyone gets what they deserve.
Den of Thieves
Where: SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter St., San Francisco
When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays; 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; closes April 17
Contact: (415) 677-9596; www.sfplayhouse.org