The Shoplifters

The Shoplifters is a quick, entertaining comedy set in an overstuffed back store room of a contemporary big box store. From the first scene, our sympathies are torn between the world-weary, savvy-enough Alma (confident Jane Houdyshell) and the idealistic apprentice security guard Dom (overwound Adi Stein) who has detained her for stealing a ribeye steak. Swimming in a uniform two sizes too big for him and suffering from a nut allergy, Stein’s frantic attempt to assert his authority is fun to watch.

Alma and Dom are mirrored in their respective pragmatism and frenzy by the dour Otto (Michael Russotto filling in for Delaney Williams), a senior security guard who’s just had a “you can’t fire me, I quit” conversation, and the leporine Phyllis (skittish Jenna Sokolowski), who has been recruited by Alma into her bit of Robin Hood larceny. Newly-hatched thief Phyllis finds a surprising number of places to conceal heisted baking ingredients on her slender frame.

We’re asked to consider “Who stole the American dream?” and the piece does give us something to chew on in that respect, inviting us to join the 99%; as a counterbalance, the play touches on the depersonalization of all economic transactions. Is it OK to steal if and only if you don’t see the person you’re stealing from?

At its heart, the work is an updating of that fine series of Looney Tunes featuring the sheepdog chasing the wolf all day and punching out when the whistle blows at the end of the shift.

Unfortunately, the script calls for a series of choppy scenes, all set in that store room and separated from one another by only a moment or two. And a momentum-breaking intermission is needed largely to do a little cleanup and to precisely position a key prop.

  • The Shoplifters, written and directed by Morris Panych, Arena Stage Kreeger Theater, Washington