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In the Parlance

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

In the Parlance, the new play by Richard Harland Smith now playing at the Pulse Theatre, is a sequel to Smith's gangster-themed 1994 one-act Prelude to a Hit. According to the program, Smith refers to it as "an oral history told by unreliable and uncertain sources." If not for that bit of explanation, it would be difficult to determine exactly what In the Parlance is about.

The primary difficulty stems from the number of storylines Smith feels the need to include. The educated bartender, Eddie (J. Richey Nash) flirts with both his fellow employee Cath (JulieHera DeStefano), and a life of crime, while Detective Lucy Szabo (Robyn Parsons) battles drug addiction, and two of the more prominent members of the crime syndicate, Tommy G. (Roy Bacon) and Chaz Lupo (Tom Cappadona, recreating his character from Prelude to a Hit) try to strike a deal with an up-and-coming Russian gang.

It's a lot to keep track of.

Smith and his director, Kevin Oncale, do their best. The play opens with every character onstage talking at once, a section of time is repeated three times in a row, three different scenes happen simultaneously with one actor going back and forth between them, and, in the show's most entertaining scene, two characters play themselves on videotape as a video tape in a police investigation. Whatever else may be said of In the Parlance, creativity is hardly lacking.

What is lacking is a sense of coherence that would bring the different elements of the play together. So many of the characters seem to live in their own worlds, without contributing to the play as a larger piece. Why, for instance, is the reporter, played by Annmarie Benedict, in the play when all she really contributes is to inform us of an event we learn of later anyway? Why does an otherwise realistic play feel the need to jump around in time as much as it does? These mysteries are never explained, leaving watching In the Parlance a frequently bewildering experience.

Equally as mystifying, and far more damaging, is the play's dialogue. While there is a certain comedy to be derived from a group of New York gangsters dealing with the complexities of English grammar, it tends to get old quickly. A lengthy discussion about cell phones in the first act, for example, accomplishes little dramatically or comedically. Eddie's constant corrections of everyone also tends to wear thin after a while, and though much of the play's action revolves around his exploits, Smith brings little more about him to the surface. It's easy to believe exact words are important to gangsters, it's less easy to believe they would care about the minutae exactly as much as they do here.

The acting, across the board, suits the play as decently as the dialogue will allow. Two of the actors, Bacon and Cappadona, seem particularly comfortable in their roles; their characters and usage of the dialogue are more fully fleshed out than the others. Nash does what he can to create a character with his lines, but Eddie ends up stiff rather than sympathetic. Lou Kylis, as a doctor, appears in only one scene, but does very well. The other members of the ensemble contribute fine, but unexceptional, work.

As good a prequel to Prelude to a Hit as it may be, In the Parlance fails to stand on its own dramatically. Buried underneath the peculiar dialogue are some interesting theatrical and cinematic ideas that simply never come to fruition. For the ample creative work Case and Oncale have applied to the script, it is difficult to not wish the script they provide was more worthy of it.

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Lightning Strikes Theatre Company
In the Parlance
by Richard Harland Smith
Directed by Keith Oncale
The Pulse Theatre, 432 West 42nd Street between 9th and 10th Avenues
Through May 26
Tickets: (212) 713-5334 or online at the Lightning Strikes Theatre Company website