From left, wide-eyed rookie Dom (Adi Stein) shadows the grizzled veteran security guard Otto (Delaney Williams) in ”The Shoplifters.” The play is showing at Arena Stage through October 19. (Teresa Wood)
Intermission? Ah, damn.
Time flies too fast during “The Shoplifters,” a 90-minute comedy at Arena Stage. Intermission is an unwelcome break in the laugh-out-loud season opener at the Washington, D.C., theater.
Tony Award nominee Jayne Houdyshell charms as Alma, an elderly smart aleck shoplifter who has seen it all. She knows how to use store policy to her advantage. She even has a favorite security guard, the grumpy but loveable Otto (Delaney Williams).
“The Shoplifters” is Houdyshell’s first theatrical performance in Washington. Let’s hope she comes back for more.
Houdyshell and Williams are a strong match-up. Williams consistently delivers on the stage. He is perhaps best known for his role as Sgt. Jay Landsmanon the HBO television series “The Wire.” He also played a memorable Murray in Theater J’s revival of “The Odd Couple.”
Alma’s sidekick is Phyllis (Helen Hayes Award winner Jenna Sokolowski), a flighty coat check girl who reads horoscopes and fortune cookies for truth. Phyllis’ foil is Dom (Adi Stein), a zealous security guard trainee who seeks to punish shoplifters and simultaneously convince them to repent from sin.
One-liners drop as fast as cans in a collapsing aisle display. Alma and Otto deliver the best belly laughs. Audiences will be hard pressed to pick a favorite one-liner. A strong contender is when Alma protests that she didn’t stuff steaks in her clothes: “Why would I put meat down my dress? There’s enough bacteria down there.”
The play’s wit extends beyond the dialogue. The physical acting is a delight. No spoiler alerts here, but keep an eye on Phyllis’ illicit haul. Try not to lose sight of the pricey steaks that started it all.
The set is a grocery store stockroom filled with floor-to-ceiling boxes of Utz, Raisin Bran, Hersheys and Oreos, to name a few products. Kudos to set and costume designer Ken MacDonald for creating a space that feels both cavernous and confining.
Even though the set is fairly static, the cast makes effective use of props with comedic results. The walkie talkie jokes are especially fun in the first act.
Playwright-director Morris Panych claims in the dramaturge’s notebook that he avoids politics in theater. This is a welcome relief for Washington, where even using a pedometer is competitive. Sometimes theater goers just want to have fun. While Panych’s play doesn’t lecture about economic theory or lobby for social policy, it still touches on serious subjects — luckily for audiences, not in a heavy-handed way.
Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., presents “The Shoplifters” through Oct. 19, 2014. Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday performance begin at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday performances start at 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday matinees are at 2 p.m. Weekday matinees are at noon on Oct. 1 and Oct. 14. Tickets are priced between $45 and $90, with discounts for students, service members and others. For more information, call 202-488-3300.
Megan Kuhn is a financial literacy advocate by day and a theater fan
by night. One of her favorite possessions is the red jacket from “Dead
Man’s Cell Phone” that she purchased at a costume sale at Woolly