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Theatre Reviews by Matthew Murray

Michael Ferrell
Photo by Scott Brooks.

Anyone who lives in New York can tell you that the real estate market is deadly. But if you thought the cutthroat world of apartment renting was vicious, it's peanuts compared to the diamond trade, where tiny, sparkling stones command even more fanatical devotion than a luxury apartment. Scott Brooks, however, has conflated these two every-man-for-himself occupations into his astonishingly cynical new play DupleX, which just premiered at the Midtown International Theatre Festival.

It's a play populated with realtors who bicker over their "rights" to squat in homes they don't own, sleazy gem sellers all too ready to kill for their glittering charges, and voluptuous con artists who can steal tens of thousands of dollars with little more than a flash of the right kind of skin. Even the cops are on the take - assuming, that is, the guy at the door with the gun and the badge really is who he says he is. That you can never be sure is one of the greatest strengths of Brooks's play - and its most debilitating weakness.

Even more than in his ramshackle farce Bag Fulla Money, which premiered Off-Broadway last year, DupleX is a bloody condemnation of the human tendency toward greed, and a look at how it destroys all in its path. Both Nick (Michael Ferrell) and Zelda (Jennifer-Scott Mobley) might have good reasons for wanting to take over a stunningly appointed East Side apartment neither controls - Nick's finances have been crippled by student loans, Zelda's on the run from a violent ex-boyfriend - but free housing will take a back seat to a lifetime of financial security the instant a suitcase of free diamonds drops in their laps.

They're the carefully hidden property of a dealer named Abe Pearl (Benim Foster), whom Nick and Zelda see shot by wholesale gem merchant Sergio (John Di Benedetto), who believes they rightfully belong to him. Nick and Zelda manage to divine the secret of the diamonds' location, and then are stuck with two small problems: how to hide Abe's body so it can't be traced back to them, and how to trust each other with a secret that could have life-altering impact on both their lives.

The first issue is solved easily enough with a hacksaw. But for the second, Brooks sees Nick and Zelda's concerns as rippling through the lives of Zelda's business partner Molly (Diana De La Cruz), her ex-boyfriend Larry (Foster again), and a detective investigating Abe's death (Dominic Marcus), all of whom have their own reasons for wanting to help or impede the success or failure of the diamond-stealing plan. By constantly shifting the various veils of deception, Brooks keeps you guessing about where this is all going until the play's very last seconds, and even in the more credibility-straining moments the story is always engagingly told.

But while DupleX constantly intrigues, it almost never grips. While Brooks pulls off a few choice one-liners, his characters are too generically crafted, driven by little beyond their razor-sharp fiscal instincts. Even if, as Brooks posits, the love of money really is the root of all evil, a play full of characters who do nothing but romance it while hardly looking at each other does tend to grow tedious after a while. So do Sam Viverito's spotty direction and the performances, all of which place everything on one, too-frantic level that would benefit from at least a few more dramatic colors.

Of course, their conspicuous lack might just be the point: Just as you rarely see gradations of character do you see in something like a Passion Play, so too will you see none to speak of in a world where the only passion that exists is between one and one's money. Everyone stumbling their way through the cockamamie diamond schemes DupleX depicts hasn't yet learned, as many in the real world haven't, that riches can't love you back.

Through August 4
Running time: 80 minutes with no intermission
WorkShop Theatre, 312 West 36th Street, 4th Floor
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: SmartTix

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