Mojo By Jez Butterworth Directed by Christopher Gallu; Studio Theatre 2ndStage to Dec. 26 A rock 'n' roll crime yarn at Studio 2ndStage

Rock ‘n’ Rolled: Mojo’s cast locks itself in a club when a rival venue turns up the violence.

ARACHNID ANACHRONISM ALERT: In Jez Butterworth’s Mojo, an admirably nasty little crime story set in a London nightclub in 1958, a petty hood whose greasy, pill-clouded noggin may soon be on the chopping block answers his equally at-risk mate’s panicked rhetorical, “You think you’re in a book?” with a flippant, “Yeah, I’m Spider-Man.” Perfidy, I say! Gross perfidy and scandal most lamentable! As I’m sure I needn’t tell you, Mr. I-Lost-the-Election-for-Buffy-Fan-Club-Treasurer-by-two votes, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko didn’t hatch Spider-Man until 1962. With great power comes great responsibility...for fact-checking! I want my No-Prize! OK, so it’s a completely inconsequential goof, of course, but I’m glad it’s there: Otherwise, my assessment of Christopher Gallu’s taut, morbidly funny production of the tough-talking play that launched Butterworth’s career 15 years ago would be an unequivocal rave, and who wants to write one of those? But, fine, whatever, I’ll take it like a man: This is a drama drunk on the sound of its own highly time-and-place-specific voice, and whatever high its six inhabitants get from the white pills they’re forever claiming emblacken their piss, it can’t be as thrilling as the one we get from listening in on the grimy patois of these SoHo would-be wiseguys in the time when John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison’s musical combo group was called the Quarrymen. The sweaty brutality of early rock ‘n’ roll is a palpable presence here—the first thing we see on set designer Luciana Stecconi’s in-the-round stage is a pompadoured, shiny-suited teen idol called Silver Johnny (Logan DalBello) working on his hip shake at the jukebox, preparing to go blow some young girls’, um, minds. Butterworth’s language is so thick and fast that for much of the first act, you might wonder what you’re missing—there’s some dissonance between the mile-a-minute talk and the measured unspooling of plot, which isn’t so much complex as opaque. But the performances by Matt Dewberry and Danny Gavigan as Sweets and Potts —the two most evenly matched and ordinary-seeming of this dodgy lot, and the ones with whom we spend the most time—are so compelling and assured, you never doubt events will eventually come into clear focus. Briefly, Silver Johnny is the club’s star attraction, and he’s caught the eye of a rival gangland impresario. When Johnny goes missing, and Ezra, the club’s owner, turns up in a trash bin—two of them, actually—Mickey, Ezra’s second-in-command (played with brusque authority by Scot McKenzie), orders the gang to go the mattresses. For all they know they’re marked men, and Mickey figures their best bet to survive ’til morning is to bar the doors and shelter in place. But Baby, Ezra’s volatile son, is the last sort of bloke with whom anyone would want to be confined, even if he didn’t love his daddy’s cutlass the way Phil Spector loves handguns. Daniel Eichner is all cruelty and entitlement in the part, and his unrepentant abuse of the frail Skinny (Dylan Myers) pegs him as a budding sociopath incapable of kindness or even indifference to the weak. Crime stories have always been natural vehicles for explorations of tribalism and male hierarchy. With its uncommon milieu and captivating performances, Mojo gives this old, even primal tale a menace you can feel. ’58, schmifty-eight: Your Spidey-sense will be tingling all night.

Leave a Comment

Note: HTML tags are not allowed in comments.
Comments Shown. Turn Comments Off.
...