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Open: 03/18/10- Close: 04/04/10 The Two Gentlemen Of Lebowski
Reviewed for By: Lauren Wissot

Frank Cwiklik ©2021  Brianna Tyson as Maude and Josh Mertz as The Knave

As a theater and film critic familiar with the Bard's buddy comedy about friendship and love, but who must guiltily confess to never having seen the Coen brothers' cult hit on which filmmaker Adam Bertocci's play "Two Gentlemen of Lebowski" is mostly based, I can attest that one need not be a White Russian drinking, pot smoking, bowling playing fan of The Dude to enjoy DMTheatrics' American Shakespeare Factory (in association with Horse Trade Theater Group's) latest thoroughly engaging and swift moving production. But it helps. Especially if you don't want to feel left out as those seated around you anxiously await the transformation of their favorite Dude koans.

The show's cast is led by Josh Mertz as The Knave, a loveably doughy slacker who spends his unemployed days playing "ninepins," and Bob Laine as his best friend Sir Walter of Poland, a lovelorn Jewish convert who returned from the "jungles of the Orient" with a hair trigger temper (at one point pulling a sword on a rival bowler). While not exactly Jeff Bridges and John Goodman in nuance - Mertz's whininess and Laine's over-the-top ranting, while undoubtedly funny, start to flow into a one-note rhythm - the two don't have to be with Frank Cwiklik's focused directing and Bertocci's sharp, often overlapping dialogue, which together add up to a tight, one-hour-and-forty-five minute running time. Depending on how in on the inside joke one is, Bertocci's lines are either gasping-for-air hilarious or merely amusing. Luckily, you don't have to know the source story of how "The Dude" Lebowski, mistaken for a millionaire named Lebowski, gets roughed up by thugs who urinate on his beloved rug, which sends the aging beach bum on a twisted and quite complicated tale of deception involving kidnapping, nihilists, porn stars and a bowling pederast. Just sit back, relax and be happy that Shakespeare's characters finally get to cut loose and smoke some dope!

Frank Cwiklik ©2021  Josh Mertz as The Knave

And the play's very levelheaded director smartly employs the barest of staging in this black box theater. The upstage black wall serves as a screen on which to project images like an ancient bowling alley, and is divided into three parts, which can open to reveal the front half of The Knave's stolen corvette. With minimal props, fight choreography that often consists of nothing more than evocative freezes, and simple yet powerful lighting and costumes - a pair of sunglasses and a chalice make The Knave - DMTheatrics could teach bloated Broadway a lesson in less is more. (William Shakespeare, a "tourist," in a bowling shirt is worth a thousand pounds.) Cwiklik's talent lies in knowing how to cut out the fat and pare down productions to their essence with no extraneous movements or words. From the opening operatic version of the Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want" to The Cure's "Friday I'm in Love" (growing up goth I'm a sucker for the company's dark musical roots), which closes out the show, Cwiklik's choices are as precise as is the Coen brothers' selection of Creedence Clearwater Revival for The Dude.

Plus, the eclectic dance sequences - such as the pederast bullfighter bowling to "Hotel California," or the German nihilists shimmying Sprockets-style towards The Knave while he's soaking in a washbasin, or the final "Gutterball The Musical" extravaganza - border on the near brilliant. By the time the title cards ("Is This Thy Parchment, Laurence?") hit the back screen even those of us new to The Dude have become true believers in The Knave. Reading the projection that explains that there "was supposed to be a video but we fell behind schedule" and "I'm sorry, I'm under a lot of stress right why don't we skip to..." we're ready to let DMT's honest heartfelt theater take us pretty much anywhere. Cue the bar above The Kraine Theater to stock up on vodka, coffee liqueur and cream.

Kraine Theater : 85 East 4th Street