John Wolfson's world-premiere play
seems curiously old-fashioned. However, since this is a comic drama about U.S. drug policy and the great gray area between good and evil, old-fashioned is sort of a sweet (and surprising) contrast to the grittiness or harder edges one might expect. The work owes more to William Inge's
than to Oliver Stone's
, which may be one reason it turned up at Hedgerow Theatre rather than at a theater (InterAct, maybe) more likely to take on such overtly political material.
The Don doesn't offer many surprises, but its strengths aren't rooted in new ideas anyway. The action may occur in a SoCal border town during a present-day heroin raid, but the stock characters - townies and transients stuck in a police lockdown at the last-stop Grace's Bar & Motel - have been around for decades. There are young-gun pilot Carter (Jim Sorensen); eager teenager Tony (Carl Smith); brassy broad Grace (Penelope Reed); lost girl with a heart of gold Joyce (Sara Painter); the kindly doctor (Louis Lippa); the good-guy wiseguy, the Don (Tom Teti); and crooked cop Marco (Joe Guzman). Mix in some smuggling, and the play practically writes itself.
Nonetheless, Wolfson forces his pen hard when the group starts editorializing, with clunky exposition about whether the government should burn poppy fields or buy the crop outright, legalize drugs or give them away. It's a worthwhile discussion, but it doesn't match the show's best and most natural moments, when older characters subtly school younger ones about the substantial benefits of age and experience.
Though director Bill Roudebush and cast could have used another week's rehearsal (opening night had the hallmarks of a preview performance, with widespread script flubbing), the old-school camaraderie of Teti, Reed, and Lippa whups the tar out of Sorensen, Smith, and Painter; the elder trio and Guzman simply appear more at ease. Sorensen and Painter never relax into their characters as does Reed, who can toss a quip over her shoulder and bring the house down without bothering to look back.
When Teti - in a tailored suit and flanked by Reed, decked out in the tropical flair of a parrot, and the gentlemanly Lippa - reminisces about the James Cagney gangster era ("My old man used to run liquor; crime was respectable then"), it's a rebuke to government-subsidized thuggery and the slovenly kids before him. Strangely, the Don's novel perspective resides not in its examination of the drug trade, but in the way it equates age with increased competence.
Playing at: Hedgerow Theatre,
64 Rose Valley Rd., Rose Valley. Through June 5.
Tickets: $22 to $25.