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THEATER REVIEW: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

by Chris Conley

It's a special night indeed at the theater when two male leads click. Think Nathan Lane and Mathew Broderick in The Producers, or, in a different era, George Burns and Walther Mattheu in The Sunshine Boys. Joe Battaglia and Scott Price have that kind of chemistry in the Central Wisconsin Area Community Theater production of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

This is remarkable. First, this is Community Theater. The great male-male ying and yang usually develops over dozens -- in some cases hundreds -- of performances. Like wine, it gets better over time. For Battaglia-Price, it came together quickly. And secondly, the working relationship is critical. You see, Battaglia and Price are con-men, and they're willing to cheat and swindle anyone who comes near them, including each other. Although we're treated to a very funny musical comedy, neither of the lead characters rises to the level of 'lovable'.

One of the shortcomings of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is that we're never sure if our con-men are mere tricksters or if they're truly rotten. They're not. We wind up watching the play as dispassionate observers. It's hard to have a rooting interest in who pulls of the biggest swindle or who gets the girl when everyone's a despicable rogue.

Battaglia's Lawrence Jamison is a suave sophisticate. He cons rich, unsuspecting women out of their money at a french riviera resort by pretending to be a price-in-exile who's run short of cash. Along comes Price's Freddy Benson. He's younger, more brash, but the best con he comes up with is getting unsuspecting women to buy him breakfast. They're forced to work together -- although it's clear they don't like or trust each other. It's a script that's fertile ground for comedy.

The CWACT cast is full of many very good supporting performances. Beth Swartz, last seen as Evita for the Everest Academy for the Performing Arts, is a great singer. Michael Ruhbusch plays the "steerer" in the con perfectly. Wendy Minch looks perfect as an unsuspecting heiress.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is not a perfect play. Like many musicals that started out as movies, some of the songs seem like they're forced into the story. None of the songs are particularly memorable. They're not supposed to be; they're vehicles for more comedy. Some people will see the twist at the end of the play. Like me, they'll wait smugly for confirmation.

Overlook the imperfections in the material. This is a funny, entertaining night of live theater, and it is very well acted.

Chris Conley
Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau

The finalperformanceof Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is Sunday 10/22 at 4pm at the Sentry Theater in StevensPoint.

John McLenan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons