Funny Money

Bag Fulla Money is that rarest of shows, a dark comedy that actually gets lighter as it goes along rather than becoming increasingly heavy. Writer Scott Brooks's production, currently gracing Theater Row's Clurman Theater, is not just a madcap mystery full of double crosses. It is also a sterling example of how solid plotting can buttress even the most trivial-seeming piece of entertainment. Oscar (Christopher Wisner) is a chef working in the basement kitchen of a four-star hotel owned by Mr. Prescott (Stu Richel). Indeed, that is where the entire action of the play occurs, and it kicks into high gear following Oscar's discovery of the titular bag, which contains blood money hidden by two hit men, English (Richard Mazda) and Randall (Darius Stone). The amount is more than a million dollars.

First Oscar enlists the help of his fiancée, Becky (Heather Dilly), who becomes aroused at the mere scent of money. It is not long before she is trying to turn on Oscar by seducing Jimmy (Jon Ecklund), Mr. Prescott's vapid son. The play's convolutions escalate as an interloper named Jonesy (David A. White) and his wife, Laverne (Diana DeLaCruz), separately angle their way into this tangled web—all while trying to avoid the wrath of English and Randall.

The beauty of director Sam Viverito's fluid production is how it never succumbs to any predictable choices, like bumbling slapstick moments, along the way. In fact, with characters entering and exiting as often as they do, he has blocked Money in the great tradition of classic English parlor-room comedies. Brooks has surprises in store at almost every turn, and Viverito not only moves the action along at a good clip but, in hindsight, makes clear each character's sometimes multiple motivations. That said, a scene in which Laverne tries to hide in the kitchen lacks credibility.

And even though the first act addresses murder and dismemberment, Brooks's show actually gets funnier as it goes along and the pieces of his ever-shifting puzzle coalesce. At the performance I saw, the first act was roughly twice as long as the second, which consists largely of denouement. I've been told that at subsequent performances this unnecessary intermission (the show runs just under 90 minutes with one) has been eliminated. Still, the show's last scene, satisfying and conclusive as it is, could use a little more punch to provide a sense of finality.

Viverito has assembled a uniformly stellar cast. DeLaCruz has the facial gestures of a silent-film-era actress, and Ecklund works overtime to make Jimmy seem believably clueless. White offers an enormous amount of charisma as Jonesy, whom the audience sees as both a villain and a charming enigma.

But it is Heather Dilly who runs away with the show from her first moment onstage. Becky is a master manipulator, but Dilly's performance fills in all the shades of gray that fall between femme fatale and class clown. She is bold enough to command the stage in every scene—no one in the audience can look elsewhere during any of her scenes—and she combines those moments with goofy physical comedy, masterful timing, and an often rapid-fire delivery that expresses dominance and panic all at once. Dilly is like a combination of old Hollywood actresses Lucille Ball, Carole Lombard, and Barbara Stanwyck.

Keep an eye on her. In Bag Fulla Money, a show thick with thieves, she steals the show.

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