Playwright Benjie Aerenson scrambles the plotlines and styles of Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple” with David Mamet’s “American Buffalo” for a breezy new seriocomedy, “When Cuba Opens Up.” The tale of two aging thieves in Miami Beach planning a last big score is wistful and brisk for the most part, but the appeal dims in a few late scenes of uncharacteristically tasteless detail.
In an effectively low-key performance, Burt Young plays Timmy, a master burglar who wants to go straight. Greg Zittel is his nervous partner, Wayne, who agrees to one more crime before going legitimate. Their goal: to be the first U.S. entrepreneurs ashore when Fidel Castro’s regime ends and Cuba “opens up.”
High-tension Wayne hooks up with a fast-talking, ambitious young thief named Johnny (Leo Marks). The heist whets Wayne’s appetite for more, causing an erosion in his partnership with Timmy, who’s now a pool attendant at a swank beach-front hotel.
Aerenson’s dialogue and action have a light, slick patina, complemented by director Bill Hart’s crisp staging. The touchingly comic center between Young and Zittel accommodates interesting sidelights and digressions, never distracting from the plot. Marks’ nervous energy as the young burglar contributes much energy, and Steve Wise adds a surly, unexpected ripple to the finale as a jaded detective who forces a sudden change in the thieves’ plans.
The playwright, whose similarly themed “Lighting Up the Two-Year-Old” bowed at the recent Humana Festival in Louisville, Ky., is savvy enough to recognize society’s bottom-feeders but carelessly allows the scum to muddy the play’s lighthearted wit and mainstream prospects. Still, appropriate rewrites are well within reach.