Do The Hustle

By Brett Neveu

do the hustle by brett neveu at writers' theatre
Do The Hustle

Directed by William Brown

At Writers Theatre

“You’re just a two-bit grifter, and that’s all you’ll ever be.” – Randy Newman

Not to front-load this piece, but Do The Hustle is good.  It’s really good.  It assures us that people are still writing great plays and illustrates why Brett Neveu has had plays debut not only across this country but across the pond as well.  His language is, like Mamet, like Penhall, something of a mess – people interrupting each other, talking over one another, pausing.  Which is one of the things that makes it so effective: it’s as if you’re listening to people on the street.  It is a new kind of realism that’s sort of sweeping the stage right now, and it’s fantastic.

do the hustle by brett neveu

The subject Neveu has decided to study this time is street-level con artists.  It’s a father-and-son team, Eddie and Sam Sisson, played by the remarkable Francis Guinan and firecracker Patrick Andrews, who eek out a living by doing two-bit scams on whoever happens by.  Their various victims are played by Joe Minoso and Karen Janes Woditsch, who are excellent in every character they inhabit, with Woditsch showing particular range.  At the outset of Do The Hustle, Eddie has something big lined up – something he won’t let Sam in on, although he plays a part.  As the play goes on, we get to see the depths and heights these two grifters will go to: Eddie steals from his own mother, with Sam distracting her and feeling none-too-good about it; and the big con is cleaning out his strung-out ex-wife – Sam’s mother – by selling her a box that prints prescriptions.  All this in stark contrast to the recent rash of white-collar confidence men in the news and, more and more, on the stage.

do the hustle by brett neveu

What makes this play riveting is the characters themselves, and how they cope with the situations they’re in.  Eddie is a classic con-man: slick, ingratiating, always ready with a sob story or a show of affection.  He’s hard.  His son is really uncomfortable with the cons, and only grows more uncomfortable as they grow closer to home; but he uses that to his advantage, blowing up how ashamed he is of his father to hook the mark – and never letting on what his father is actually up to.  Mum’s the word, even to his own mother, who gives them all the money she has so she can indefinitely get high.  But he pushes back more and more against his father, who counters by recounting stories from Sam’s childhood, showing how much love he has for his child.  Father and son can never quite agree on their recollections, though.  Sam’s constant worrying about his age – his 18th birthday is right around the corner – and his desire to get out from under his father – saying he has another thing going with a couple kids – brings a play based on ulterior motives to a head, and manifests in a striking denouement after a thrilling climax.

do the hustle by brett neveu

Francis Guinan is masterful.  He infests the small space of Writers with his presence.  Patrick Andrews plays the part of the plant with near-perfection.  Every time one of his outbursts seems over-the-top, it’s because it is, it’s meant to be, it’s a con.  He’s selling it.  And his range is impressive – which is one reason that the high-volume outbursts, while perhaps necessary, become a little repetitive.  It’s clear he could do more with them, so we wish he would.  Joe Minoso sells each of his parts wonderfully, particularly the kind-yet-righteous man in the library who loses $20 to a reluctant Sam and a practically bored Eddie.  In fact, the scene is a highlight of the play.  Two more highlights come with Karen Janes Woditsch, whose portrayal of the mothers of Eddie and Sam are both heartbreaking.

Do The Hustle is a fantastic play.  It may not be a new classic; it may not be an Arcadia or a When the Rain Stops Falling; but it is nevertheless an excellent piece of theatre.  And it is a true pleasure to see it in a space as special as the Writers’ Theatre, with clever sets, great music, and actors as fine as these.

Highly Recommended.

Will Fink

Date Reviewed: February 3, 2011

Jeff Recommended

For full show information, check out  the Do The Hustle page at Theatre In Chicago.

At Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe, IL; call 847-242-6000 or visit www.writerstheatre.org; tickets $65; performances Tuesday-Sunday; running time 90 minutes without intermission; through March 20.