Robin Steele, at National Pastime Theater. There's been a healthy appetite for stories about rogues, villains, and con men ever since the 18th century at least, when Henry Fielding, John Gay, and Daniel Defoe wrote their popular accounts of such proto gangsters as Jonathan Wild, Macheath, and Moll Flanders. But I doubt the predilection for watching smoothies and sharpies do their worst and get caught (maybe) will attract many to Robin Steele, a shameless vanity project written, directed, and produced by Raymond Hughes. Billed as a comedy in two acts, this play about a compulsive gambler being conned by the title character is in its finest moments only mildly humorous. And in its worst, it's the kind of show that makes you sorry you didn't run out at intermission.

Not that Hughes deserves all the blame. His story is nicely structured, though the dialogue needs lots of work and the scenes run way too long. And he's gathered an assortment of farcical characters--bumbling gangsters, empty-headed innocents, easily angered authority figures--that in more expert hands might have been the fixings of a funny show. But Hughes as director doesn't have much of a clue how to bring his mild comedy to life. His direction is pedestrian at best, and the actors deliver the kind of flat, obvious performances that make community theater notorious. The only one who seems to know anything about delivering comic lines--Brian Schlanger--is trapped in a character who changes according to the needs of Hughes's plot: one minute he's smart, the next he's stupid, then he's sloppy drunk (on one beer), etc, etc, until the play ends.

--Jack Helbig

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