Playwright/television writer Matt Witten (“Homicide: Life on the Streets,” story editor on “Law & Order”) penned this sojourn through the seedy side of political chicanery in 1986 when the criminal entrapment of high-level officials must have seemed like hot stuff. Today, the angst-ridden efforts of FBI undercover agent Peter (Christopher Murray) to ensnare Pennsylvania wheeler-dealer Tommy O’Hara (Barry Lynch), appears simplistic and unimportant. Witten has not instilled enough character development or true drama into the proceedings to warrant the time spent in their company. Director Allan Miller, who staged the 1989 L.A. premiere of the work, attempts to goose the proceedings along with a bombardment of sound and light cues that actually slow things down, often sabotaging the dramatic flow.
Further impeding interest is the awkward, often jarringly frenzied interplay between Peter and his hyper-eager boss, Alex (Dihlon McManne), who is desperate to have a conviction, any conviction.
More resembling the frenzied boiler room confabs of the denizens of David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross,” Murray’s Peter and McMannes Alex are so maniacally high-charged in their communications, they appear to be talking right through each other rather than having viable conversations.
The immediate object of their concern is Jimmy (Joel Anderson), a thoroughly naive, low-level ward boss who is easily duped into taking a bribe by Peter, posing as a developer who wants the path cleared for his organization to obtain a liquor license for their proposed hotel.
While Peter is whipping himself emotionally over possibly sending this schnook to jail, single-minded Alex keeps prodding the action forward in order to hook O’Hara, who manipulates all the political action from his office in the state capital, Harrisburg.
In very predictable fashion, O’Hara neatly sidesteps the FBI trap, leaving the full weight of legal expediency to land on poor Jimmy, who was only trying to raise a little money to send his daughter to college.
On the plus side, Anderson is thoroughly believable and sympathetic as in-way-over-his-head Jimmy. It is almost endearing to listen to his shy, tentative explanation of why he had to keep most of the bribe money (instead of spreading it around to underlings) so that his daughter would not have to work her way through Swarthmore.
The star performance, however, is turned in by Lynch, whose O’Hara literally appears to puff up with self-importance as he declares, “The world’s full of nice guys, but they can’t get things done.”
In the most enjoyable scene of the evening, O’Hara’s amoral villainy is clearly the victor over the government’s ineptitude as he derails the FBI’s case, drolly reading a series of prepared statements into Peter’s supposedly hidden tape recorder.