If you're not familiar with First Run it's mission statement (unlike those of most theatres) is concrete, meaningful and short: to produce world premieres of plays by regional playwrights. Each year they do several full productions as well as readings and workshops. Needless to say the quality varies.
But "Murphy's Law" is not only the best thing I've ever seen at First Run, this show by Kenneth Stilson stands up with the best you'll find anywhere in town. It's not full of deep social significance, it doesn't address major world problems, it's simply the best-written and best-acted new comedy I've seen in some years. There's a little of "The Sopranos" and a little "Pulp Fiction" here.
Francesco ("Murphy") Murfone and Tony Santucci are "soldiers" for Mr. Baldino, a St. Louis Mafia boss. Murph and Tony have been best buddies since childhood, but now Mr. Baldino is in jail and he thinks Tony is the rat who sent him there. Murph has been given the assignment of terminating Tony.
The setting is the ratty basement of the house where Murph lives with his grown-up kid sister, Sofia. A bloodied Tony spends much of the play tied up to a chair as Murph strives to decide what to do. But Murph has a little day-care problem—if he is to take Tony out to the Eads Bridge, as directed, somebody has to stay with Sofia, 'cause she is more than a few bubbles off. She's a delightfully wacky confection—a cheerfully paranoid chatty nut-case who knows that Leon Panetta is leading a vast conspiracy to take over the world. And she won't stay out of the room while Murph deals with Tony, because she fancies herself Tony's fiancée—and because she just has to change the cat box right now! It's six-thirty!!
The script is wonderfully witty; there are heaps of beautifully made laughs. There is some pretty realistic violence—which is both a little frightening and strangely funny. (And it's exceptionally well done.) But there's also a perceptive examination of love under stress—long-term brotherly love as well as family love (and just a touch of romantic love).
The characters are well and carefully drawn. Tony and Murph have a touch of Italian accent—just enough. But their language consistently displays the difference between the two: Tony was the better student, he's more articulate, while Murph is the brassy extrovert who is "just one of the guys".
Natalee Damron is a ton of fun as Sophia, and she brightens things enormously. (She doesn't quite sound like Murph's sister, though; a touch more Italian might be in order.)
The truly remarkable thing about the evening is the simply perfect performances by Joe Cella and Todd Micali as Murph and Tony. I've hardly ever seen such absolutely ideal casting. Murph is stocky and cocky while Tony is smaller and wiry. It's a lovely comic physical contrast. Both men give truly outstanding, deeply professional performances. They have wonderful senses of comedy and timing. What's more they have the acting chops to tackle some really intense and moving moments. These guys simply are those characters.
Director Judy Yordon did beautiful work, keeping the pace lively and finding every laugh. Mike Monsey deserves special praise for staging the very believable violence.
All in all it's a production that you don't want to miss. You'll laugh and laugh and laugh.
Congratulations to all, and especially to playwright Kenneth Stilson.
"Murphy's Law" plays at the DeSmet High School through June 30. (DeSmet is just inside highway 270, north of Ladue Rd. in Creve Coeur. Parking is accessible via Emerson Rd. just east of 270). For more information: firstruntheatre.com.