That pretty much summarizes the predicament facing a Detroit hit man in the world premiere of “Corktown” at The Purple Rose Theatre in Chelsea. And not only is Michael Brian Ogden’s second-ever script razor sharp and thoroughly engaging, the production is also one of the bloody-best times I’ve had in a theater so far this season.
At 31, Joey is tired of the lifestyle and wants to get out of the business. But that’s difficult to do – even when you don’t have a chopped up, 400-pound dead guy in your bathtub. And even more so when your boss thinks highly of your work and is considering you for a major promotion.
So the likelihood of a successful transition into another line of work is doubtful, which is the point Laurence, his best friend and fellow hit man, tries to impress upon him. But Jenny’s unexpected intrusion into Joey’s life might be the inspiration he needs to make that fateful move. But to paraphrase a line from the show, he might not get the ending he deserves once boss Cobb learns of Jenny’s survival and Joey’s potential betrayal!
While Ogden’s earlier effort, “Bleeding Red,” received warm reviews and earned him a 2009 Wilde Awards nomination for best new script, “Corktown” reveals significant growth as a playwright. The plot, with its numerous and unexpected twists and turns, smoothly unfolds like a “buddy flick” (which, if he’s smart, he’ll pursue), while every line of dialogue helps move the story forward. Also, despite their line of work, the close relationship and camaraderie between Joey and Laurence is well defined and totally believable. As such, references to the two characters as “Butch” and “Sundance” serve as an appropriate analogy – so much so, the ending Joey gets is in doubt until the last few minutes of the play. (As Ogden humorously toys with, people still debate whether Butch and Sundance survived at the end of the movie.)
The script alone, however, is not responsible for the excellent production. A play is marriage of script and direction, and Guy Sanville’s expert guiding hand is evident throughout. Sanville, who has staged more world premieres than probably any artistic director in the state, is at his best here. Every move is carefully planned, and the pacing keeps his audience glued to the action from start to finish. (The running time seems deceptively short, thanks to the show’s intensity.)
Plus, Sanville is ably assisted by fight choreographer Nate Mitchell, whose skills are put to great use throughout the show. (No actors are harmed during the performance – we hope!)
Sanville’s eye towards casting is also put to great use here.
Tom Whalen brings to the role of Cobb a snake-like charm, whose smile is as equally dangerous as is his bite. And as Jenny, Stacie Hadgikosti’s “charm under pressure” is delightful.
But it’s Butch and Sundance – or rather, Joey and Laurence – who draw the audience into the show and keep them there, thanks to top-notch performances by Matthew David (Joey) and Ogden (doing double duty as Laurence). The script requires of them heavy-duty emotions and physical stamina, and both are at the top of their game. (Also, watch the electricity form between David’s Joey and Hadgikosti’s Jenny; it’s palpable!)
And although all of the show’s technical requirements are solid, a major shout-out must go to stage manager Stephanie Buck and her crew who, after every performance, must wash everyone’s bloody clothes and remove what seems like gallons of blood from the floor, walls, props and furniture. It’s an anonymous and not-very-fun job, but they deserve their share of the kudos as well as everyone else!
The Purple Rose Theatre Company, 137 Park St., Chelsea. Wednesday-Sunday through March 5. $25-$40. 734-433-7673. http://www.purplerosetheatre.org