CRIMINAL HEARTS by Jane Martin, directed by P. J. Hammond, with Emily Sanford, Shannon McDonough, Paul Hardy and Brian Barker. Alumnae Theatre (70 Berkeley). Runs to December 4, Thursday-Saturday 8 pm. $18, Thursday two-for-one. 416-364-4170. Rating: NN Rating: NN
Salvation comes in many strange forms. Ata (Emily Sanford) finds it in a cat burglar, Bo (Shannon McDonough), who breaks into her nearly empty high-end Chicago apartment one night.
Abused and abandoned by her self-serving, lecherous husband, Wib (Brian Barker), Ata's turned into a naive agoraphobe with stress allergies who lives on pizza and Dr. Pepper. With help from con artist Bo, she takes revenge on Wib and finds that fate hasn't cast her as a victim after all.
Jane Martin's comedy relies too much on sitcom-style humour, but she's nailed the relationship and the chemistry between the two women. There's a touch of Thelma And Louise here, but the bonding's wrapped in the packaging of a predictable movie of the week.
Director P. J. Hammond uses this relationship to build her production, setting up a good game of catch. The actors, though, don't respond in equal measure. McDonough's Bo, who initially plays on Ata's sympathies but then realizes that there's a likeable person inside her prey, is alternately tough, sympathetic, spirited and demanding. She's also good, near the play's end, at showing us the distrustful Bo's own pain and numbed anger.
Unfortunately, Sanford doesn't return the ball as successfully. There's a bland, superficial quality to her Ata, and it's hard to empathize with her and cheer her growth. The laughs and power of Ata's climactic second-act speech come from the script rather than the performance.
The show's two men - Barker and Paul Hardy as Bo's sports-fixated assistant in crimes and scams - are more plot elements than developed characters. Barker's Wib could use both more believable charm and bullying, while Hardy has some moments of comic invention.