Entertainment » Theatre

The Shoplifters

by Les Spindle
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Nov 17, 2015
Wendy Johnson, Kathleen Bailey, Steve Hofvendahl and Alex Genther
Wendy Johnson, Kathleen Bailey, Steve Hofvendahl and Alex Genther  

Canadian playwright Morris Panych's quirky comedy, "The Shoplifters," which premiered last year at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., is set in a large supermarket, presumably in the U.S. Falling somewhere between loony farce and gently provocative morality tale, the piece is less a formulaic sitcom than a description of its basic storyline and characters might suggest.

When brassy customer Alma (Kathleen Bailey) stuffs a steak under her dress, intending to steal it, she is observed by a pleasant but geeky young security guard trainee, Dom (Alex Genther), whose utter naiveté and ineptitude bring to mind gangly Barney Fife of "The Andy Griffith Show."

Double-talking and getting the best of the weak-willed guard proves to be a piece of cake for the manipulative Alma, who forestalls any thoughts he has of arresting her. The plot thickens when we discover that Alma has brought along an accomplice: spacey Phyllis (Wendy Johnson), a pal who works at a local club as a hat-check girl.

Completing the quartet of characters is Dom's trainer and co-worker, Otto (Steve Hofvenhdahl). The elder employee has a secret of his own. Though he is well aware of Alma's larcenous ways as he has been observing this daring thief on store security cameras for a good while, he hasn't made any attempt to intervene or arrest her, because he's attracted to her.

The play ventures a bit beyond sitcom predictability when the disparate situations of the characters lead to reflections on where we find ourselves in life and what we imagine as a more fulfilling existence. In the broadest comedic role, Bailey anchors the ensemble. She's a skilled comedienne who also brings out the human dimensions in a character that could have lapsed into a familiar comedic style of brassiness and manipulation. Hofvendahl, in a less broadly conceived role, is a solid counterpart, bringing dimension to a character who is looking for love and a redemptive sense of accomplishment in life.

The two younger performers add to the effectiveness of the ensemble. The lanky Genther is amusing and appealing as the underachieving rookie, and Johnson manages to make her broadly written role consistently entertaining.

Director Maria Gobetti parlays the unpretentious piece into a satisfying evening of light entertainment. Design elements (particularly Elizabeth-Hayden Passero's set, Carol Doehring's lighting, and Bonny Baldwin's costumes), add to the pleasures.

"The Shoplifters," runs through Dec. 20 at the Victory Theatre, 3226 W. Victory Blvd., in Burbank. For information or tickets, call 818-841-5421 or visit www.thevictorytheatrecenter.org

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