Despite emotional performances and elegant direction, Brett Neveu’s new play “Do the Hustle,” the story of a lowly father-and-son con team receiving its premiere at Writers Theater outside Chicago, comes off as something of a hustle itself, or, in an effort at the proper parlance, a “long stall” in search of a “big play.”
Story depicts Eddie Sisson (Francis Guinan), a veteran grifter whom old acquaintances and even his own mother dread having appear on their doorstep, and his 17-year-old son, Sam (Patrick Andrews), who recognizes that it’s time for him to make some of his own decisions. Neveu follows them through a few cons – mostly small-time stuff that involves their arguing fiercely as a means of set-up or distraction — and a few conversations, where they find it difficult to shed their working habits of conflict.
“Do the Hustle” is highly reminiscent of Mamet, a comparison made even more emphatic by the fact that Guinan and Andrews recently starred in “American Buffalo” at Steppenwolf.
But if Mamet never resists going for the jugular, Neveu – a prolific writer who continues to be frequently produced in Chicago even though he has moved to L.A. – has a tendency to strip out the highly dramatic or sentimental or even eventful. One can feel his competing impulses in many scenes here, which involve a lot of history that perhaps purposefully isn’t elucidated very effectively, and wrenching situations where Sam and Eddie’s emotions must necessarily remain contained.
In other words, the deepest stuff remains latent, which makes “Do the Hustle” feel like a stick of dynamite with a fuse that keeps faltering.
To Neveu’s credit, he’s created enough here for Guinan and Andrews to dig into deeply, and they’re both infinitely compelling to watch. And between scenes, director William Brown has the actors set up the small set pieces in Kevin Depinet’s minimalist set design, giving the 80-minute piece a graceful flow.
If getting us to want to know more about his characters and to crave the ultimate confrontation is Neveu’s goal, then he’s very successful here. But that doesn’t mean he’ll oblige.