Review: Crime pays off in ‘Coronado’

Moviegoers who have enjoyed Dennis Lehane’s writing in films such as “Mystic River” and “Gone Baby Gone” are advised to head for the new San Francisco Playhouse production of “Coronado” as quickly as possible. With this contemporary noir thriller, which opened Saturday night in its West Coast premiere, Lehane adds “playwright” to his list of credits.

Developed from a Lehane short story, “Coronado” bears all the marks of the author’s best film writing: edgy dialogue, the mystery of a crime with implications that reverberate throughout the community, and vibrant, clearly-drawn characters intertwined in ways that slowly reveal themselves.

Lehane introduces three plot lines in the play’s first scene, which is set in a grimy small-town bar. (The great set is by SFP Artistic Director Bill English, with lurid lighting by Cy Eaton and sound by Steven Klems.)

The characters, all grifters and losers (aptly costumed by Valera Coble), include a father-and-son con artist team (English and Chad Deverman) looking for a missing girl and a stolen diamond; an on-the-down-low psychiatrist and his high-strung patient (Louis Parnell and Stacy Ross), whoare entangled in an unethical affair; and a pair of lovers (Will Springhorn Jr. and Kate Del Castillo) plotting a murder.

Act 2 moves outside to a nearby fairgrounds, where the characters’ past acts return with a vengeance.

It’s a gritty and suspenseful story, and under the smart direction of Susi Damilano, Saturday’s 95-minute performance (with one intermission) made it hum like a live wire. Lehane makes rapid-fire cuts between the scenes, plays fast and loose with his timeline and finally integrates the characters in unexpected ways.

The cast — which also includes Lorraine Olsen as a sympathetic waitress, Phillip K. Torretto as a hapless victim and Rebecca Schweitzer as the missing girl, Gwen — gives fine performances, with Ross’ unhinged Patient and Deverman’s lovelorn Bobby as standouts.

The surprises keep coming right up to the end, and if Lehane ties it all up a bit too neatly, he does offer at least one novel twist. The final scene, which returns to the bar of Act 1, suggests the kind of redemption none of his characters had a right to expect.

IF YOU GO

Where: San Francisco Playhouse, 533 Sutter St., San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. Wednesday through Friday; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday; closes April 26

Tickets: $38

Contact: (415) 677-9596 or www.ticketweb.com

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