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Reviews

THE COMMON MAN

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You get the pervasive sense that when a seriocomedy ostensibly about the Mob doesn't use Italian phrases but throws in Yiddish terms like "schmuck" and "putz," you are in for a theatrically bumpy ride. Such is the case with this play, in which Matthew Klein misses opportunities for drama with on-the-nose proselytizing and somehow blows the comedic possibilities of trying to find a key buried in two sacks filled with dead tropical birds.

Leonard (Carl J. Johnson) is a whiny writer who has broken up with his girlfriend for some inexplicable reason and is staying at the Brooklyn apartment of Peter (Gregory Littman), whose dream is to be a crooner but who gets by selling cut-rate fiber supplement through his home. Their dream is to open a Mafia-themed restaurant that will employ their creative talents, but the money is supposed to come from the mobster father of Japs (Klein), who in desperation hits on an idea of finding a safe-deposit key in the body of one of the dead birds at the house of a recently rubbed-out guy. Japs' brother Stanley (Kevin Brief) complicates matters with his incompetence, and hit man Slopes (Art LaFleur) gives them a life-or-death decision as punishment after they botch the job.

LaFleur lends some tough-guy class to the proceedings, and Brief provides some pleasant comedic touches to an otherwise struggling cast. Klein puts long, feel-good speeches into his mouth that do not ring true. Johnson is particularly grating, and while director Stuart K. Robinson has staged the piece adequately, the real problem is the playwright's: The piece is rife with unexplained and unlikely action, tonal jumps that could cause a nosebleed, and an unresolved ending that is dramaturgically infuriating. If Klein could have done something more amusing than pulling intestines out of dead bird bodies or something more stirring than having himself be a cheerleader to a bunch of losers, he might have had something here. There is undoubtedly a moving moment toward the end when a recollection about a father's cruelty moves the players onstage, as well as the audience. But with lines like, "You mean we have the potential to make this dream a reality?" one wonders how to answer the question.

"The Common Man," presented by Meredyth Hunt at the Met Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hollywood. Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. Jan. 24-Mar. 2. $20. (323) 957-1152.

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