I’ve never been involved in a bank heist but if I were, I could never be tasked with the role of Getaway Driver. I can’t navigate with any certainty when the car is required to do above 30 mph on a city street. Ask me to drive at break-neck speed through urban obstacles and then set you down at the end safely and I assure you: I can’t do it. But Adam Szymkowicz can … and in his new play Pretty Theft directed by Angela Astle he shows us how he navigates those narrow streets and dark alleys like a pro. In the hands of a lesser writer (or the wrong director) I could see this play crashing into a wall and laying in a twisted heap of shards and confusion. But it doesn’t, it gets it right every time, and that’s what makes Pretty Theft so appealing.
The moment you first lay eyes on Dartmouth-bound Allegra (Marnie Schulenburg) you watch as she barely catches her breath, so eager is she to explain to her potential new coworker (and old “friend”) Suzy (Maria Portman Kelly) how utterly worthless and useless she considers herself. Just as quickly Suzy eagerly tallies the toll it’s taken on her being pegged as the school slut and the boyfriend-stealer; it’s the resume of a lost girl who gets her sense of self based on how other people react to her, despite the armor she puts on in the hopes of convincing people she doesn’t care what they think. Both girls are troubled but in different ways, and a well-what-the-hell-else-do-I-have-going-on-around-here friendship of proxemics springs up between them.
Allegra and Suzy work together in a group home for troubled adults where their autistic charge, Joe (Brian Pracht), spends his days speaking in Ralph Wiggim style non sequiturs, and taking pretty things from people and storing them in a box he sleeps with in order to make himself feel safe. We come to find that before he came to live in this group home, Joe was a fixer of things … seemingly mechanical things like toasters and washing machines, though as the play moves forward we see that he is attracted to anything (or anyone) that is broken, which is why he is so fond of Allegra and will only truly respond to her. He is not the only one who takes things; Suzy will walk away with anything that isn’t nailed down, be it trinkets, her mom’s car, or her BFF’s boyfriend, Bobby (Zack Robidas).
Across the country in an out-of-the-way diner another what-the-hell-else-do-I-have-going-on encounter is working its way towards something a little more as smooth talking “art dealer” Marco (Todd d’Amour) charms the forlorn, lonely and nameless Waitress (Candice Holdorf) to fall for him. Coffee cup after coffee cup he weaves a tale for her of how (before he “retired”) his passion was collecting beautiful things … and soon enough we get that “art dealer” is just his cute phrase for something a lot darker.
These characters are all wound so tightly that it’s only a matter of time before they all break and go spinning off in all directions … and if you’re not paying attention there are some twirling ballerinas to help layer in the sub-text (Candice Holderdorf again, as well as Cotton Wright who does triple duty also filling in as Allegra’s cold and cruel mother and the group home supervisor, and finally Lynn Kenny who doubles as the Psychiatrist). Sometimes lithe and lovely, sometimes screeching and twisted, these ballerinas serve as the linchpins which keep everything crazily bound together.
Eventually when the two stories crash into each other, as inevitably they were meant to do, there is a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach as you watch what you can’t believe you’re watching … I won’t give it away but it’s certainly one of the most disturbing scenes I’ve ever seen played out before me in live theatre. And then, right before you cover your eyes the steering wheel is given one final expert turn and you’re deposited safely at the end of the road with your heart in your throat but your feet back on terra firma.
Pretty Theft is playing at The Access Theater (380 Broadway, 4th Floor - 2 blocks south of Canal Street) through May 17th. Performances are at 8:00pm Thursdays through Saturdays and 7:00pm on Sundays. To purchase tickets click here.