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In Stephen Adly Guirgis' 'Den of Thieves,' deft writing steals the show

In Stephen Adly Guirgis' 'Den of Thieves,' deft writing steals the show
Frank Gallegos, left, Alison Quinn, Chris Lanehart, Kevin Herrmann and PaulinaGamiz appear in the 2Cents Theatre production of "Den of Thieves" at the Hudson Guild Theatre in Hollywood. (Daniel J. Sliwa Photography)

If he had been born in another generation, Stephen Adly Guirgis could have been a gag writer on "Your Show of Shows." Guirgis can be screamingly funny, with a knack for colorful characters and deft one-liners.

"Den of Thieves," an early Guirgis work, introduces the playwright in a madcap mood. The play is both primer and precursor for his more philosophically dense later plays, including "Between Riverside and Crazy," which won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for drama.

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In 2Cents Theatre Group's production of "Den of Thieves" at the Hudson Guild Theatre in Hollywood, director Eric Augusztiny delivers plenty of laughs in a frequently riotous but occasionally heavy-handed staging. If certain members of the cast could use a tad more Method and a soupçon less mugging, at least we are laughing too much to be all that particular.

The action opens as Paul (Frank Gallegos), a sincere-to-a-fault 12-stepper who is in recovery for overeating and kleptomania (among other things), meets fellow crook Maggie (Alison Quinn), whom he sponsors. When Maggie's hyper ex, Flaco (Kevin Herrmann), barges into Maggie's squalid apartment, simply rendered in Nicholas Acciani's effective scenic design, he enlists Paul and Maggie's help in a "foolproof" scheme to rob a local nightclub.

Of course, the inept thieves, including Flaco's hooker girlfriend, Boochie (Paulina Gamiz), find themselves bound, gagged and facing execution by mobster Sal (Eric Geller) and his youthful boss, Lou "Little Tuna" Pescatore (Chris Lanehart). When Lou takes pity on the gang and asks for "just one body" to show his ruthless dad, Big Tuna (Cris D'Annunzio), the hapless quartet must determine who dies.

In a climactic scene, the terrified captives try to convince one another who would be the biggest loss to society. Among these "closing statements," Gamiz's monologue is a particular delight, as side-splitting as it is plaintive. It's just one example of Guirgis' ability to mine high humor from the depths of despair.

"Den of Thieves," Hudson Guild Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Feb. 7. $20-$25. (323) 960-5770. www.plays411.com/denofthieves Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

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