A menacing crime boss (Ron Bottitta, center) enlists hapless cab drivers… (Enci )
As edgy Irish comedy-thrillers go, Robert Massey’s “Rank” largely ranks as “Martin McDonagh Lite,” but like its more extreme noirish forebears, Massey’s 2008 caper tale revels in skillfully expressive language, even in the most trivial exchanges — loopy digressions and non sequiturs are the main attractions in its U.S. premiere at Odyssey Theatre.
Adhering to its genre formula, the play’s Irish-inflected love of gab goes hand in hand with its mounting sense of menace, as down-and-out cab driver Carl (Kevin Kearns) faces dire consequences from unpaid gambling debts to local crime boss Jackie Farrell (Ron Bottitta).
The latter’s predilection for dispensing paternal advice while preparing to inflict more painful life lessons sets the tone early on for the characters’ random discourses on vegetarianism, self-service gas stations and the wisdom of buying toilet paper in bulk — even as the stakes elevate.
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The perfectly cast Kearns and director Wilson Milam know their way around this kind of tension, as respective performer and director alumni of the 2010 Mark Taper Forum production of Martin McDonough’s “The Lieutenant of Inishmore.”
While the violence here is more implicit, shifting power dynamics provide ample bad behavior opportunities for the entire cast, which also includes David Schaal, Jason Killalee and Karl Maschek. Some opening night settling-in issues are entirely fixable, especially with greater trust in language and comic delivery and less reliance on actorly embellishment.
Even with the production on its best footing, however, the limitations of Massey’s familiar and formulaic plot and characters remain — all the more reason to make the most of his more idiosyncratic detours.
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Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles.
8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, 8 p.m. Wednesdays (April 3 and 17, May 8) and Thursdays (April 11 and 25, May 2). Ends May 12.
$25 and $30 (pay-what-you can March 29 and 31, April 19 and May 5).
(310) 477-2055 or www.odysseytheatre.com.
Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.
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