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Verv's Katie Holland directs a fast, funny, fresh Criminal Hearts

Girls with guns

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There's something about girls with guns that turns us on. Maybe it's a Southern thing. It's one of the reasons why we liked Criminal Hearts, an unpredictable comedy from the boisterous North Charleston-based company Theatre/verv/.

From the opening moments of the play when Bo the female burglar enters wielding a handgun, it's obvious that this isn't the kind of play to snooze through. The story revolves around Bo and the lady she's trying to steal from, Ata Windust. Ata is a 33-year-old nervous wreck who spends most her time hiding in bed. By sneaking in through the window, Bo makes it impossible for Ata to avoid the exciting, dangerous outside world any longer.

For any sane person, a break-in would be a disaster, but sanity is an alien notion to Ata. When we first see her, she's dressed in polka-dot pants and slippers with fluffy pink balls. "Women shouldn't shoot each other," she cries. "Men shoot each other. Women relate!"

And they do, finding things in common with each other despite being from different worlds. Bo is a "hustla" scrounging a living through cons and thefts. Ata is a society gal who has fallen foul of her swinish husband, a lawyer named Wib. He's left her with nothing but an expired credit card, a closet of designer clothes, and no self-esteem. But once Ata has possession of the gun, she can't let go, so the two women hatch a plot to wreak revenge on Wib.

Jane Martin's 70-minute play has lost none of its freshness since its first performance in 1992. It breezes along in just three scenes, developing the two main characters as they learn who they can trust and make decisions about how they want to live their lives, honestly or dishonestly. Along the way Martin takes cracks at boorish male behavior, the jargon of psychotherapy, and the shallowness of high society.

Many of the clever/funny lines in the play go to Ata, so it's fortunate that Moss plays her in this production. Moss takes what could have been a hysterical stereotype and makes her enjoyable to watch whenever she's on stage. Moss gives an endearing and sympathetic performance that holds the show together.

As Bo, Rose obviously enjoys her role. Maybe too much. She finds it hard to keep a straight face, particularly in her first scene. Even if this is part of Bo's freewheeling character, it looks like Rose is fighting off a fit of giggles. In the second act, she seems more composed.

Boogie Dabney is Bo's beau, Robbie. He's a candy-chewing, beer-loving, totally untrustworthy dude, a criminal in a cummerbund who's always looking for an angle. Dabney manages to be charming even though his character is despicable.

J.C. Conway is saddled with the equally loathsome role of Wib. He has a couple of long, stodgily written speeches that almost lose steam, but then he rallies round when Wib loses his temper with Ata. It's an effective moment that makes us hate his character more than ever. J.C.'s wife Andrea Conway has a hilarious (and we don't use that word lightly) cameo as nosy neighbor Mrs. Carnahan, responding to a gunshot in Ata's home. Sadly, only half of the audience can see her because she's tucked behind a door. The same goes for some later reactions from Dabney, who eavesdrops outside the apartment for a time.

Director Katie Holland pays attention to detail and does a good job of keeping the play moving; Ata's wordy monologues are performed with alacrity. It would be good to catch more of the actor's faces — they sometimes look upstage instead of letting the audience see them.

The play benefits from Dabney's set, which conveys an apartment gutted of its furnishings and paintings. A couple of lighting effects also help to enhance the story, such as the moonlight on the window that Bo sneaks through.

Holland has decided to keep the tone light and funny throughout, making this a fast and friendly night of theater.

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