Three Wise Guys: Theatre Review by Ethel Wolvovitz

Three Wise Guys is the latest production of TACT/The Actors Company Theater, founded twenty-five years ago by a group of actors who aimed to revive and reimagine great, long-neglected plays. The play, written by Scott Alan Evans and Jeffrey Couchman is based on two plays by Damon Runyon and is filled with the slightly shady, Times Square characters and idiosyncratic language most familiar to the public from Runyon’s Guys and Dolls.

The plot is a familiar one. Three men meet in a Broadway speakeasy on Christmas Eve in 1932. They’re opportunists with, seemingly, no Christmas spirit, who use a Santa suit to escape the mobster who’s after them.  Their journey from layabouts at a Manhattan speakeasy to a posh, Long Island mansion where they’re hired to play Santa and his “metaphoric elves” to a decrepit barn in Pennsylvania where they find salvation is a romp that leads these wayward men from a life on the fringe to the second chances that befit the Christmas holiday.

Although it’s a much-told story, because of the witty writing and many, clever plot devices and the solid direction of Scott Alan Evans, Three Wise Guys feels entertaining and new. As our characters “take it on the lam,” we can’t help but laugh as they set out in a car made out of chairs and head-lights which soon comes to life as a road is projected behind them. Other projections, such as a jewelry store heist and a police chase, employ shadow puppets behind sheets and, like the humorous, live characters who appear, at times, from behind windows we didn’t know existed in a nondescript wall, seem to be puzzle pieces that will eventually resolve into the whole. ­­­­­ Jason Ardizzone-West’s simple sets provide an appropriate contrast to the intricate Puppetry Design of Andy Gaukel  and the Projection Design of Dan Scully, and work well with Cody Lee’s Prop Design. The design team also includes David Toser (Costume Design), M.L. Geiger (Lighting Design), and Bart Fasbender (Sound Design).

The fine ensemble cast stars Jeffrey C. Hawkins as the nimble-footed, fast-talking, charmer, Dancing Dan, Joel Jones as the gambler/family man, The Dutchman, and Karl Kenzler as the lovelorn, Blondy Swanson. Dana Smith-Croll stands out in her multiple, comedic performances as the spry Gammer O’Neill and the surprisingly, streetwise heiress, Bitsy Albright. John Plumpis (Heine/ Jasper/Ambersham/ Cop) also gives fine performances in multiple roles.

The only thing that seems inappropriate about this production is the time of year in which it was produced. I guess TACT feels that we need a little Christmas. Maybe, they’re right.

Three Wise Guys is playing at the Beckett Theatre at Theatre Row in New York City through April 14th.