Two plays from Scottish theater company Traverse, “A Respectable Widow Takes to Vulgarity” and “Clean,” are running in repertory as part of 59E59’s Brits Off Broadway festival. Both have a sense of lightweight fun — something like a Guy Ritchie movie without the blood and guts. “Clean,” by Sabrina Mahfouz, has the heist and “A Respectable Widow,” by Douglas Maxwell, has the blue language. Together, they almost make one “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.”
“Clean,” a play about three female “clean criminals” — law-breakers who do not hurt innocent people — opens with a voiceover. Mahfouz reflects on a conversation she had at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with a video game designer about gender, concluding that she must tell the story of authentic female crime heroines. Essentially, the production aims to be “Grand Theft Auto V” without anyone running over pedestrians.
This play is a gripping and rhythmically performed tale of a robbery gone almost wrong, mimicking the high drama of video game narratives. It wins back what it lacks in stage design, direction and performance with creative verbalizations and the pure pop appeal.
But neither Mahfouz nor Orla O’Loughlin, who directed both plays, seem to have a sense of what video games are about, or what aspects of gender discrepancies are interesting in that medium.
The playwright still manages to capture a game’s confectionary sense of fun — plus the dopamine withdrawal ache, emptiness and lack of emotional depth that comes from putting down the controller — without commenting on the formal constraints of the medium. The play would have fared better without the opening narration.
“Widow” has similar notes of treacle and similarly choreographed movements, though this time they do not fit the complexities of the script. “Widow” plays the comic premise to full potential, portraying a well-bred patron of the arts who takes up profanity lessons after her husband’s funeral, providing language that is as colorful as the script of “Clean” is poetic.
59E59 presents many comedies at its Brits off Broadway festival, and these two Edinburgh offerings are passably funny, if not much more.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, April 15 print edition. Alexander Tsebelis is a contributing writer. Email him at email@example.com.