|© Danna Segrest|
by Sally Mitani
How many Irish mobsters does it take to change the Michigan economy?
I'm not sure what people who like romantic comedy will make of Corktown, by Detroiter Michael Brian Ogden, playing at the Purple Rose until March 5. I hate to sound like such a cackly old witch so soon after Valentine's Day, but most romantic comedies drive me insane with their zany, contrived cute meets, followed by a few hours of a fluffy, spunky heroine in some kind of pickle from which she's rescued by the guy she thought she hated. Corktown is a kind of final solution to that damsel-in-distress romantic comedy, and I loved it.
It's set in a fictionalized present-day Detroit, where Irish gang violence has reached such a pitch that it seems to offer a way out of Michigan's unemployment crisis. At least five characters have full-time jobs in the Irish mafia, and another (perhaps not so unrepresentative of state economics) is hoping to make a living in Ann Arbor studying it. Mostly, though, Corktown is about two young hit men, Joey (Matthew David) and Laurence (the playwright himself), and a sweet girl named Jenny (Stacie Hadgikosti).
You can't meet much cuter than this. Joey has shot and is about to dismember Jenny when she wakes up. They fall in love in the usual two-hour rom-com way, trading saucy banter, but--something to tell the grandkids!--bullets fly while Jenny trips over body parts and makes mac and cheese. By the end, the stage is awash with blood, and nearly everyone has both shot someone and been shot. The scary mob boss is played by Tom Whalen, who continues to surprise me. I'd never have guessed he had a sociopath in him, but a bit he does in the beginning, dancing around the stage eagerly prodding dead bodies like a kid poking Christmas presents under the tree, is about as chilling a performance as I've seen.
And meanwhile, the rom-com deconstructs. Toward the end, Jenny turns to
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