Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of The Seven Year Itch
While Canadian playwright Morris Panych has sneaked some messages about class inequality and the need to have something of one's own into his play The Shoplifters, receiving its world premiere in the Kreeger Theater at Washington's Arena Stage, it's far less preachy than out-and-out funny. Panych also directed this comedy about a standoff between two women who want something for nothing and two men trying to stop them from getting it.
The laughter begins with the first look at Ken MacDonald's scenic design: a storeroom in the back of a supermarket, with crates stacked to the ceiling and outcroppings of specific items in jewel-like colors (dishwashing liquid, corn oil, window cleaner, etc.). The setting is at once forbidding and amusing, like an enchanted cave filled with cartons of paper towels and ketchup. Nancy Schertler's lighting design shifts with the mood of the play, from prosaic to slightly mystical.
The initial confrontation is between Alma (Jayne Houdyshell), who's been around for years and thought she had seen everything, and Dom (Adi Stein), the new security guard trainee in an ill-fitting uniform. "I'm dealing with amateurs!" cries Alma, who finds the overzealous Dom much more annoying than her longtime foil, the more stoic Otto (Delaney Williams).
The fourth member of the cast is Alma's friend Phyllis (Jenna Sokolowski), a nervous young woman who takes spiritual advice wherever she can find it, including in fortune cookies. She has her own reasons for participating in this adventure and Dom decides he's going to find out what they are and reform her, whatever that may involve.
The primary engine of the production is Houdyshell, a Tony-nominated actress making her Arena Stage debut, squeezing every bit of juice out of her lines, her walk, her facial expressionseven the way she rummages through her enormous purse. The interplay between her and Williams, solidly built and mostly soft-spoken, is assured and highly entertaining to watch. Sokolowski and Stein are also well matched as people at the end of their rope, each about to fall into desperation.