John Pollonos pitch-dark comedy -- set in a rustic Maine cabin -- is packed with terrific roles. The roles may be richer than the plays essential qualities. These qualities start from those in any family drama by Sam Shepard, mingled with the comedy of idiot-thugs pitched against ineffectual poet-philosophers found in Harold Pinters early plays, and Quentin Tarantino film Pulp Fiction. Pollono is a good writer, but with 30 new plays per week opening in L.A. alone, one asks for aspects of originality and theatricality in a new work rather than those of indie-film derivation, which prevail here. Dean (Richard Fancy) is an aging ex-thug with a few months to live, condemned by what appears to be colon cancer. Fancy plays him defined by brute dominance and machismo yet with clearly elucidated soft spots for his second wife, Sandy (Suzanne Ford, in a nicely textured performance), and their intellectually precocious son, DJ (Edward Tournier). Deans boozy ex, Ruth (Laura Gardner), arrives in a blather of intoxication, along with the tattooed, bloodied adult son, Rocco (the excellent Jack Maxwell). Turns out Rocco is on the run, and if we never met whom hes running from, or understood why, there wouldnt be an Act 2. The character study of Act 1 yields to the hostage drama of Act 2. Large weapons get brandished, family secrets get unleashed, there are jokes about the overwrought violence in which the play indulges, like the fantasy of a gangster comedy to star Robert DeNiro and Chris Rock. In their stead, we get terrific portrayals by Rob Bottitta and Patrick Flanagan as the Mafia up from the city. And though the plays ultimate worldview can be found in innumerable DVDs arriving in the mail from Netflix, this is still a good workout for the actors, the writer and for director Elina De Santos, who shapes the action as seamlessly as she can. Stephen Giffords realistic set is also effective, under Leigh Allens lights.
Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Starts: Sept. 26. Continues through Nov. 15, 2008