Gus’s Fashions and Shoes
Reviewed by Pauline Adamek
Vs. Theatre Company
Through May 30.
Prior to the start of the show, the audience is blasted by gangster rap songs pumping through the speakers at an ear-splitting volume level — a fitting prelude to the edgy, darkly comedic drama that follows. Ron Klier’s Gus’s Fashions and Shoes is macho and talky, with all the action happening in the back room of a store and centering around five larger-than-life male characters. Pagers, walkmen and a rotary phone denote the era as early 90s, when fancy running shoes and label-emblazoned sportswear were must-have fashion items.
The story seems slight at first, more like a colorful character study, as we watch each of the men swaggering, posturing and blustering. The dialogue feels authentic and there’s plenty of dry, droll banter as they interact. Act One establishes the various relationships — tyrannical shop owner Gus (Robert Maffia) and his son Matty (Sam Boeck), a young guy immersed in black culture. Matty’s best friend is De’Ron (Amir Abdullah), an aspiring rapper. Gus seems permanently at odds with his truculent employee Jimmy (Pancho Moler), so there’s a lot of shouting and empty threats thrown about.
In Act 2, however, Klier ratchets up the intensity, especially in a lengthy scene between De’Ron and an old friend of Gus — a narcotics detective named Joe (Jeffrey Johnson). Joe informally yet menacingly interrogates De’Ron about a shooting that happened at a rowdy teen party, and the gravity of the situation soon becomes evident.
Klier does a great job directing his own play, eliciting fantastic performances from almost all in the gripping storyline. Eventually, Klier introduces pathos to his story in such a delicate way that before you realize it, you have begun to care about these characters.
Gus’s Fashions and Shoes is the second part of a planned trilogy set in St Louis that started with Klier’s Cops and Friends of Cops, also staged by Vs. Theatre Company two years previously.
Vs. Theatre Company, 5453 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through May 30. (323) 739-4411, www.vstheatre.org