REVIEWSREVIEWS BYTheatre ReviewsTom Williams

The Roper


By Will Dunnethe den theatre

Directed by Ron Wells

Produced by The Den Theatre, Chicago

Quirky historical dark comedy features an ensemble of terrific characters

Local Chicago playwright, Will Dunne, has another stage worthy work, The Roper, now playing at The Den produced by The Den.  Based on an actual event, The Roper is a historical comic drama about a wacky crime. We meet a bumbling gang of petty criminals, mostly Irish immigrants as they plan the “Crime of the Century.”

the den theatre

Set in Chicago in 1876, we meet a reformed horse thief, Swegles (Tony Bozzuto) as he is applying to be a “Roper” – an undercover agent, informer for the US government’s Secret Service. Tyrrell (Brad Woodward) needs a criminal type to infiltrate a Chicago gang of Irish counterfeiters. Swegles has three things for the assignment: he is a criminal, he can put on an authentic Irish brogue and he desires to do something worthy with his life. He is paid $5 per day for being a roper.

He successfully infiltrates the gang that has Hughes (Ted Hoerl), Nelson (Robert Koon) and the nasty barkeep Mullen (Michael Downey). The gang is a group of stupid, low-life, heavy-drinking lot who plan an outrageous scheme to make $150,000 by kidnapping the body of Abraham Lincoln on the Presidential election night, November 7, 1876 from his Springfield tomb. Swegles, now know as Morrissey, plans to creature the gang with Tyrrell’s help just as the gang is about to move Lincoln’s body. Tony Bozzuto is terrific here as the roper; we empathize with his quest.

the den theatre

This funny play features a nice assortment of Chicago’s fine non-Equity players each fully in tune with their characters ineptitude. Their planning their crime using their stupid logic becomes such as wacky scheme that it could possibly work. The humor is, indeed, in the details. I’ll not reveal more so as not to spoil the surprises. The Roper is really a character sketch of the petty criminals from the 19th Century immigrant lot as their desperation for the good life pressures them to take up crime. It is also Swegles’ story of his quest to redemption from his criminal ways as well as his shot at personal legacy. The Roper is a funny yet poignant story of a group of likable losers. For something different and entertaining, The Roper is worth a look.


Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: March 6, 2014

For more info checkout The Roper page at

At The Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee, Chicago, IL,, tickets $25, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours, 15 minutes with intermission, through April 13, 2014

Leave a Reply