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Jewish Journal

Un ‘Common’ Characters

by Mike Levy

January 24, 2002 | 7:00 pm

Two garbage bags full of dead birds separate four Brooklyn buddies from their dreams in actor-playwright Matthew Klein's debut production, "The Common Man."

Japs Peretti (Klein), estranged son of a Mafia don, looks to rival mafioso Joey the Saint for the half-million dollars he needs to open a mob-themed restaurant and nightclub. Japs is a talker, given to self-deluding motivational speeches ("tomorrow is the beginning of the new forever."). With his pathological-liar brother Stanley (Kevin Brief), neurotic failed screenwriter Leonard Rosenblatter (Carl J. Johnson) and Sinatra-wannabe Peter (Greg Littman), Japs is sent to earn the money that will finally send each on the fast-track, by retrieving a safe-deposit key hidden in one of those dead birds.

The characters are bumbling failures. The Mob story, while entertaining on its own, really serves to set up the darkly seriocomic second act. With failure yet again knocking on their door, these "common" men must answer to the sympathetic hit man (a sly and understated Art LaFleur) sent to their living room. Very little of the great suspense in "The Common Man" comes from the plot. The many twists and turns in the play are the logical outcome of these four dreamers, forced at gunpoint to confront their failure and come up with a reason for living.

Klein, 30, a native of Flatbush, Brooklyn, graduated from Yeshiva University before turning to acting full time. After his early work at Manhattan's Neighborhood Playhouse, Klein came out to California three years ago and has landed roles on stage and in television shows including "Chicago Hope." With an enthusiasm akin to Japs', Klein makes light of the mafia angle and implied violence in his play. "I always start writing from pain -- that's where the comedy comes from," he says. "The violence in the play is really secondary to the characters." It's those characters -- sad, funny, and too recognizable for comfort -- who will stay with the audience long after the "common" mafia story fades to black.

"The Common Man" at The MET Theater, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hollywood. $20. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Jan. 24-March 2. For reservations or more information, call (323) 957-1152.

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