Call it a steal

By and

“Criminal Hearts”Lab TheatreWritten by Jane MartinDirected by Carin Jean WhiteStarring Stacy Sobieski, Anita Holland, Andrew Abbott and Ben Briton

An empty pizza box can say so much about a person. Tossed into the corner of some low-rent, high-roach apartment, a pizza box can waft spicy fumes of laziness, depression or some odd obsession. The higher those boxes stack up, the deeper those problems go. Call it the Pizza-to-Problem Ratio. If there’s any truth to this theory, then Ata’s got some long, horizontal hours with a therapist in store. “Criminal Hearts” is a slighted but funny play from writer Jane Martin and director Carin Jean White. Stacy Sobieski plays Ata, a kooky, compulsive recluse, who shares her apartment with wobbling stacks of pizza boxes and not much else. Her husband, Wib (Ben Briton), a greasy lawyer with wandering nether-parts, has left and taken everything-well, almost everything. Ata does have a mattress and plenty of pencils to sharpen.

In through the window one night creeps Bo (Anita Holland), a burglar who sure knows how to pick her victims. Ata wakes up. Bo pulls a gun. They duke it out, “Matrix” style.

H’wuh?

Yeah-“Matrix” style! Describing the how would ruin the fun. Describing the “why” is simple-it’s a silly bit of randomness that dares you not to chuckle. Back in reality, a strange friendship begins to blossom. The foul-mouthed, extrovert Bo has a lot to learn from the timid, introvert Ata, and vice-versa. Robbie (Andrew Abbott), Bo’s partner in crime, also gets in on the action. Together, they hatch a plot for revenge against the unfaithful Wib. Thelma and Louise would be proud.

“Criminal Hearts” overflows with the bubbling charisma and personality of its characters. Sobieski’s Ata is so neurotic and so random and so full of energy, it’s like watching a Woody Allen wet dream. She’s intensely charming in the role and flawlessly delivers her manic dialogue. Holland also delivers a solid performance as Bo-tough as nails and a convincing sailor’s vocab. Abbott gets a lot of laughs as Robbie, even if his accent sounds transplanted from that high school production of “Guys and Dolls.” And Briton is delightfully loathsome as the very slick and very ignorant Wib. All of these characters speak in a rat-a-tat-tat dialogue that tends to get a bit tiresome in spots. We expect characters in plays to be more verbose and articulate and clever than us real people, but some of the machine-gun monologues here border on self-parody. Yet, it’s difficult to deny the mastery this cast has over that dialogue, no matter how indulgent it is.

Carin Jean White, a junior in the U’s theater department, directs her actors clearly and maintains a fever pitch. The simple set design works well toward giving the actors and their characters a deserved sharp focus for the audience to understand more about them.

Granted, that up-close look at those on stage in “Criminal Hearts” sometimes blurs from the dialogue getting ahead of itself. Luckily, the big picture about the Lab Theatre’s latest production comes in crystal clear at the end: that they took a decent script and turned over a solid execution.

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“Criminal Hearts”Oct. 14-17 Lab Theatre/Studio 115 in the Performing Arts Building.

Performance times are Thursday @ 7:30 p.m., Friday @ 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Saturday @ 7:30 p.m., and Sunday @ 7:00 p.m.

Tickets are $7 for general admission and $5 for all students, and can be purchased at the door, at Kingsbury Hall (581-7100) or by calling ArtTix at 355-ARTS (355-2787).