“The Head Hunter,” a two-hander by Mark Borkowski, had its first off-off-Broadway outing in 2000. Since the playwright has raised his profile on the well-regarded HBO series “Boardwalk Empire” (portraying pugnacious war veteran Paul Sagorsky), he decided to revive this black comedy. Currently, it is on the boards in the Grand Theatre at The Producers’ Club (358 West 44th Street, NYC) until May 4, 2014.
The set-up is well-conceived. Two cousins have taken different paths; Casmir (Robert Mobley) became a screenwriter and Salvatore (Sal Inzerillo) a hit-man for the mob. Though it would seem they have little in common, their Italian mothers are sisters, elderly widows who often speak on the phone, discussing their sons, thus Salvy is aware that Casmir is too poor to provide for his Mom. Bragging that his mother has “been to Rome five times,” Salvy offers his downtrodden relative tips on being more aggressive with agents and producers so that he, too, can send his aged mama to Italy.
Casmir’s current problem is that, because he was so desperate for money, a shady producer squeezed him into relinquishing the rights to his script. This screenplay, based on the life of Casmir’s father, a carpenter, also includes a character based on his violent gangster uncle, Salvy’s father. Though Salvy coaches Casmir on how to reclaim his all-rights contract, he secretly decides to step in, using his signature M.O., death by decapitation. As the men discuss the right way to dispatch a “scumbag,” sinister family secrets come to light.
Though Casmir’s father exists only in his fond recollections, much of the action pivots on his absence. He was a rare creature in this clan of killers: an honest, quiet man who took pride in his craft. It is his sterling example—his devotion to handiwork over wealth and his focus on creating—that Casmir recognizes as his true birthright. Much suspense is aroused when Salvy hints that Casmir was misled about how his father really died.
The forward thrust in “The Head Hunter” is always “what will happen next?” But this would have been a better play if there was more attention on the characters. As written, the men are middle-aged and Salvy is well-off. Therefore, it’s odd that both are such isolated figures (no wife, no girlfriend, no kids), and there is not a more complex motive for getting the contract back (for instance, to have enough money to wed the wonderful woman Casmir loves and misses).
In the second act, as we learn more about the two dead fathers, it would have been nice to get inside Casmir and Salvy, too. By keeping his dialogue shallow, Borkowski has cut off his protagonists’ heads.
It is worth seeing “The Head Hunter” so get there before it closes on Sunday, May 4, 2014.