Rick Cleveland’s “Tom and Jerry,” a short, incomplete piece about two blue-collar Chicago hit men, has been given a first-rate world premiere by the American Blues Theatre.
Tom (Will Zahrn) is the grizzled veteran in an ugly business. He is trying to teach his eager, high-strung protege, Jerry (Andrew Micheli), how to be a proper hit man. Cleveland’s play is a compilation of brief scenes in which Tom and Jerry knock off a variety of victims. Having seen it all, Tom takes each hit in stride. Jerry, however, is anxious to master his craft, so much so that he eventually ignores one of the cardinal rules of the business during a hit. His mistake has unfortunate consequences for both killers.
The play needs fuller development. Tom and Jerry are still too sketchy as characters and their relationship too flimsily established to compel our full attention. But Cleveland’s effective use of wisecracking humor and his colorful dialogue keep the play afloat despite its unfinished feeling.
Credit also must go to director Dexter Bullard and a fine cast. Bullard’s brisk pacing and clean, lean staging are just what “Tom and Jerry” requires. Zahrn is immediately believable as the veteran killer Tom. Micheli is both funny and spooky as his young assistant. Marty Higginbotham displays great flexibility playing Tom and Jerry’s various victims. James Leaming’s set comprises a few tables and chairs that are quickly rearranged throughout the evening to create a variety of settings. Leaming’s shadowy lighting and Mark Botelho’s unassuming costumes serve the production well.