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The Head Hunter

Theatre Review by Howard Miller

Jay Rivera and Trenton Clark
Photo by Jonathan Slaff

He's no Tony Soprano, this Salvy, a mobster and professional hit man who shows up unexpectedly at his cousin's Hoboken apartment in the subdued production of Mark Borkowski's The Head Hunter at the Dorothy Strelsin Theatre. But like the central character in the popular HBO TV series "The Sopranos," Salvy does have a strong personal code of honor, especially where family is concerned. Over the course of the evening, we learn how far he is willing to go in the name of that honor.

Of course, "honor" is a relative term, given that Salvy has made a specialty of offing his targets by decapitating them, the source of the play's title. He has ventured the six-flight climb to the low rent walk-up apartment of his cousin Casmir, a struggling screenwriter, in order to figure out a way to set things right, based on a secret he has been holding on to for a long time.

The play consists entirely of the interactions between these two, the crude but complicated Salvy (Jay Rivera) and the erudite but easily intimidated Casmir (Trenton Clark). Salvy shows a strong interest in a screenplay that Casmir has written about certain aspects of his family, especially when he learns that an unscrupulous producer has tricked his cousin into signing away his rights for a paltry sum.

Mr. Borkowski's writing gives the back-and-forth between Salvy and Casmir some of the threatening vibe that inhabits many of David Mamet's works, but there is also a dark, dark humor that pervades and brings to mind the Irish playwright Martin McDonagh (The Lieutenant of Inishmore; A Behanding in Spokane).

A certain stage prop that shows up at the start of Act II makes it clear we are in a world of hyper-reality, and it also gives one indication as to why the play has been produced, albeit it at small Off Off-Broadway houses, on several occasions over the past 15 years. This presentation by Termination Productions and directed by Richard Gekko does nicely in capturing the cousin's sometimes-close, sometimes-adversarial relationship and in making the dark side of their outré world seem plausible. What is inadequately explored here is the play's provocative humor, offered up far too subtly to provide the necessary balance between the disturbing subject matter and our understanding of the strange world this family inhabits.

The Head Hunter
Through November 28
Dorothy Strelsin Theatre, 312 West 36th Street, 1st Floor
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: SmartTix

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