Three Wise Guys – The Wry Damon Runyon

This sweet, droll story titled for Christmas’s three wise men is based on the stories of Damon Runyon whose signature good-hearted crooks and dolls populate the tale. There’s honor among the fraternity of thieves, women are respectfully referred to as Miss, contractions are nowhere to be found in speech creating a less cultured/educated, streetwise patois.

Christmas Eve 1932. Good Time Charlie (Ron McClary) is keeping his speakeasy open for regulars. There’s a secret knock. Gathered are The Dutchman (Joel Jones), Blondy Swanson (Karl Kenzler), and Dancing Dan (Jeffrey C. Hawkins). The Dutchman arrives in a Santa Suit. He owes big and has a bookie on his tail. Blondy pines after Miss Clarabelle Cobb (Victoria Mack), a nice girl who wouldn’t put up with his bootlegging and went home to Ohio six years ago tonight. Intuiting the end of prohibition, he’s just retired but finds too late she’s married a civilian. Dan is seeing nightclub dancer Miss Muriel O’Neill (Victoria Mack) whose smitten, jealous protector is gangster Heine Schmitz (John Plumpis).

Victoria Mack and John Plumpis

When Heine shows up in pursuit of Dan, the other three decide it’s better for collective health to get out of town. Dan needs to hide, Blondy is at loose ends, The Dutchman intends to retrieve a sack of hidden loot. Before they “borrow” a car – after all, Santa breaks into houses, Dan, now wearing the Santa suit, wants to deliver a gift to Gamma O’Neill (Dana Smith-Croll), beloved relative of his squeeze.

On the way, they’re stopped by Myrton (Ron McClary), butler to Long Island socialite Mrs. Elizabeth Albright – Bitsy (Dana Smith-Croll). His boss requires a Santa. Nascent hoods from pet charity, The Whitney School for Wayward Boys, will join bigwigs at her annual holiday bash.

Joel Jones, Jeffrey C. Hawkins, Karl Kenzler, Ron McClary

With desperation all around, the trio negotiates participation in “exchange” for a car. The Dutchman and Blondy will act as uncostumed = “metaphoric” elves. Cool-headed, Albright accepts her unorthodox players. The Dutchman and Blondy don elf caps. Unfortunately, the hostess has hired showgirls from The Half Moon Club as entertainment. That means Miss O’Neill is there and where she goes Heine and his gun follow.

Things look bad, but savvy Albright, clearly a kingmaker, has other plans for powerful, rough-cut Heine. The Dutchman arranges to meet Merton in Florida where they’ll employ the Englishman’s purportedly infallible system for the track. Dan reflects on Miss O’Neill’s suggestion of establishing a dancing school. The three friends escape.

O’ Henry probably would’ve stopped here, but there’s more and it works. When things eventually tie up in unexpected ways – not all of them rosy, justice has been done and the three wise guys (four if you count Heine) have new futures.

Ron McClary, Victoria Mack, John Plumpis, Jeffrey C. Hawkins, Joel Jones, Karl Kenzler

It’s a good, well written story and would’ve made a wonderful 1950s’s film or musical. In fact, the piece would benefit from background music. Silences weigh heavily. Despite evocative video by Dan Scully, it’s short on atmosphere and connective tissue. Jason Ardizzione-West’s Set is not especially colorful or creative (windows work well) and shadow play by Andy Gaukel, clever as it is, doesn’t fit the tenor of the piece. David Toser’s Costumes are low key, apt. Dull visuals inhibit lightness of spirit.

I really wanted to like the production more than I did. After its look, I put lack of captivation down to Director Scott Alan Evens who may simply be too close to the material. Staging and timing are skillful, but the capable cast is so utterly natural, they convey no brightness, no zip. Perhaps exaggeration of style would help. There’s potential here. I enjoyed the story/script and recommend changes for the play’s next iteration.

This is the 25th and last season for TACT and its final show. Another worthy company bites the dust. Where are the grants and angels out there?!

Photos by Marielle Solan
Opening: Joel Jones, Karl Kenzler, Ron McClary, Jeffrey C. Hawkins

TACT presents
Three Wise Guys by Scott Alan Evans and Jeffrey Couchman
Based on the stories of Damon Runyon
Directed by Scott Alan Evens
Beckett Theatre
410 West 42nd Street
Through April 14, 2018

About Alix Cohen (899 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of eight New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.