James McMenamin and Michael Braun
in The Bad Guys
James McMenamin and Michael Braun
in The Bad Guys
A possible murder and cover-up, the war in Iraq, drug sales to children, the government bailout of Wall Street, and the fractures that erupt amongst friends and family are a few of the issues that playwright Alena Smith has crammed into The Bad Guys, now at the McGinn/Cazale Theatre as part of Second Stage's Uptown series of new works. But at a scant running time of 80 minutes, the work feels both overstuffed and underdeveloped.

The play centers on Noah (James McMenamin), a filmmaker who is on the verge of his big break, and is about to move to Los Angeles. His friend Paul (Raviv Ullman) is supposed to be driving him to the airport, but not only is he a bit drunk when he arrives, he's also easily distracted once Jesse (Tobias Segal), Noah's friend and resident drug dealer, stops by.

Noah is further delayed by the arrival of his step-brother, Fink (Michael Braun) -- their mothers are in a lesbian relationship with one another -- who is getting ready to throw a welcome back party for Ash. This unseen mutual friend from the brothers' high school days is returning from a drug rehabilitation center. Moreover, unbeknownst to Fink, Ash's possible involvement in a drug-related murder is the inspiration for Noah's new movie.

Smith's dialogue is thick with exposition, as many of the major events of the play happened years ago, or occur offstage and are described by the various characters. Additionally, the numerous entrances and exits the men make within the span of the play border on the farcical, and sometimes seem overly contrived. None of the characters are particularly likable, which also makes it difficult for the audience to care much about what happens to them.

McMenamin plays Noah as emotionally detached, but layers in feeling every now and again when it's appropriate. Braun brings a sharply contrasting and almost buoyant energy to his role, but it stays at a fairly surface level and a few more colors within his performance could add some needed depth, particularly at play's end.

Ullman's Paul is mostly comic relief, and the actor does well enough with this slenderly written and largely stereotypic role. Segal delivers the play's most dramatic monologues and is particularly heartfelt in an accusatory speech to Fink. Rounding out the cast is Roe Hartrampf as Whit, a friend of Noah's from his college days, who has a commanding presence but little in the way of a fleshed-out character.

Director Hal Brooks mostly stages the work in a realistic fashion, but there are two oddly stylized sequences where the entire cast pauses for a long stretch of stage time to watch a flock of birds or a running bunny. Surely there is a symbolic significance to these segments, but the meaning is unclear and the device seriously hinders the flow of the action.