The opening scene of Chazz Palminteri's Faithful is intriguing: a woman tied to a chair, a mobster with a gun preparing to finish her off. The tension is ready-made, and the dialogue comically and continually upends our expectations. The woman, Margaret, is feisty, scoffing at the very idea of a Mafia hit man with a name as stereotypical as Tony, and telling him she was suicidal to begin with and welcomes the idea of being done in — though she's less keen on the rape-murder scenario her husband, Jack, has set up — and then, later, saying that she's not suicidal after all, that'd she'd summoned a killer for Jack. Tony's an insecure doofus, in thrall to a shrink even more neurotic than himself, so it's not too hard for this quick-witted woman to con him, but he also has enough insight to set her back on her heels now and then.
There's a lot in this first act that's funny. Tony accuses Margaret of being unfaithful to her husband (once, she insists, to Jack's continual philandering), so she wants to know if he was faithful to his spouse. Of course he was, he says indignantly. Except for blow jobs, which don't count. (President Clinton would agree.) But the characters aren't consistent, and things don't add up. For one, why is Margaret so blasé about her situation? Hearing the words "You're gonna be dead soon" from a guy holding a gun would surely terrify even the most suicidal human being.
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With the entrance of Jack in the second half, the play falls apart. We've admired the cunning, tough-minded Margaret of act one, but act two Margaret is presented primarily as a victim and is far less interesting. Why do men cheat? she asks her errant husband plaintively. The fact that Jack had planned to trash her for a big-breasted personal assistant named Debbie is pure authorial laziness. Couldn't he at least have gone for a dental technician or an accountant? After a while, you feel as if you've fallen into an episode of The Real Housewives of New Jersey. "I'm gonna take you to the cleaners," Margaret says, and Jack whines about how he coulda been a contender — or as he phrases it, had greatness inside — but he never got over the fact that it was Margaret's money that got them started on the road to wealth: "You were always there to remind me where I came from."
You long for Tony to come back, and when he finally does, there's some confusion as he tries to figure out who he should kill — but by this time the comedy's pretty much drained out of the evening, and there's not a lot in the way of pathos or insight left to take its place.
Presented by the Edge Theatre Company through August 28, 9797 West Colfax Avenue, Lakewood. 303-232-0363, www.theedgetheatre.com.
Kelly Westback's set, in shifting shades of gray, silver and black, does this new theater company's attractive and professional auditorium proud. Tony is the most vivid of the three characters, and Rick Yaconis makes the lively, sexy most of the role. As Margaret, Lisa DeCaro is very effective in the first act — funny, full-throated and surprising, less so in the second opposite Len Matheo, who doesn't quite convince as Jack. Both characters are duplicitous, and while the actors shouldn't signal that duplicity, a cleaner, sharper rendition of the roles would make that "Aha!" moment when you realize what's up more satisfying.
To be fair, though, there isn't a strong "Aha!" moment in the script. Chekhov famously said, "If, in the first act, you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise, don't put it there." The gun in Faithful is constantly visible — in someone's hand or waistband, on the table, being slipped into a purse — and, given the generally farcical spirit, you wouldn't be unhappy to see someone gunned down. But that expectation is continually thwarted, and in the end, what you get doesn't even rise to the level of anti-climax; it's just a prolonged petering out.