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CRIMINALITY, Keyhole Players, at Heartland Studio Theater. It starts like a police procedural: officers Bill and Tom pursue troubled teens Rick and Mark, who've killed someone while robbing a bank. Tom and Mark are hotheads, Bill and Rick smarter, cooler customers. But just when you think you know what's coming, the script goes from hackneyed to insane: two consecutive scenes end with Tom storming off "to go do my job!," the teens' relationship takes on a weird My Bodyguard meets The Public Enemy color, and bereaved husband/dispossessed father/parole-jumping coke dealer Jay shows up, transforming the plot into a Dickensian exercise in coincidence and revealed kinship. Cycling through cliches with deadpan aplomb, the plot careens to a bloody finish that's equal parts Hamlet and Reservoir Dogs. The punch line: this hyperderivative mishmash aims for heavy Odets-style drama. Fortunately the cast's grim dedication makes this ludicrous script truly hilarious, far funnier than the ironic late-night treatment it screams for would have.

Frank Merle is a much better director than playwright, which explains a lot of the show's perverse watchability. Sound and light cues go off without a hitch, Ericka Beck Hemminger's set wrings every possible nuance from the small Heartland space, and the onstage violence is rendered effectively. Chuck Zis does nice, relaxed work as Bill, and Nicholas Tucci's Jimmy Cagney-Michael Madsen pastiche as Mark is often thrilling. But all this competence just throws into sharper relief the play's blind 11th-hour commentary on its staggeringly obvious ironies and implausibilities. If only all comedies were this funny.

--Brian Nemtusak

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