Review: Plainclothes (Broken Nose Theatre)

| November 14, 2018

Ben Locke, Teresa Kuruvilla, RjW Mays and Kim Boler star in Plainclothes, Broken Nose Theatre 




Written by Spenser Davis
Den Theatre, 1331 N. Milwaukee (map)
thru Dec 15  |  pay-what-you-can  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   


Darkly hilarious world premiere


David Weiss, Ben Locke, RjW Mays, Alejandro Tey, Teresa Kuruvilla, Adam Soule and Carmen Molina star in Plainclothes

Broken Nose Theatre presents

Review by Lauren Emily Whalen

For three years, playwright Spenser Davis worked in loss prevention for a Mag Mile department store. That’s a fancy way of saying that Davis and his colleagues wandered the store in street clothes for seven hours a day, eyes trained to customers who wanted merchandise, but didn’t want to pay for it. Many stole. Many fought. And as Davis and his coworkers worked to meet quotas from a largely unseen corporate team ruling from on high, they relied on each other in ways they never anticipated.

Stephanie Shum and Carmen Molina star as T and Karina in Plainclothes, Broken Nose TheatreNow, Davis has written Plainclothes as a tribute to that time in his life, that very specific and grueling job and the working class of downtown Chicago, who often go unnoticed but are the backbone of what makes this city great. Spenser also co-directs the world premiere with Kanomé Jones, on the heels of her triumphant Kingdom. After the smash hit Chicago premiere of At the Table, which Davis directed, Broken Nose Theatre has established itself as a company to watch, and a company that watches those who often go ignored: people of color whose friends are mostly white (and clueless), older gay men who’ve seen a lifetime of oppression and experienced unspeakable joy and now, “loss prevention specialists” who see the grittiest side of the glittering department store world. Plainclothes is Clerks meets Office Space meets Brooklyn 99, a darkly humorous tribute to the art of catching someone in the act, whether it’s a teen shoplifting the latest gadget or a flamboyant thief nicknamed Booty Shorts.

From its very first moment, when two employees argue over whether carrots and hummus constitutes lunch or a snack, Plainclothes crackles with a distinctive energy. Coworkers Llermo (Alejandro Tey) and Bobby (Adam Soule) sit in a cramped room, surrounded by cardboard boxes, ancient file cabinets and a whiteboard with numbers scribbled on it. The audience finds out that the numbers are goals for catching thieves, doled out by corporate, seemingly at random. As Llermo and Bobby coach new recruit Syd (Elise Marie Davis), people who steal don’t have specific physical qualities, but they do have specific behaviors. But when Syd – a white woman studying to be a police officer – is injured during her first altercation, corporate cracks down and the rest of the loss prevention team is left to pick up the pieces.

Ben Locke, Teresa Kuruvilla, RjW Mays and Kim Boler star in Plainclothes, Broken Nose TheatreAdam Soule, Stephanie Shum and Elise Marie Davis with Alejandro Tey star in Plainclothes, Broken NoseDavid Weiss and Ben Locke star as Pete and Jomal in Plainclothes, Broken Nose Theatre

In developing Plainclothes, Davis took a cue from the creators of At the Table, who developed the show over several months with a pre-cast ensemble of actors. This process can go one of two ways: epic, or disastrous. Thankfully, Plainclothes is the former: when many collaborative shows go wrong with overwrought characterizations that completely take over the story, Davis’ script is tight and fast-paced. Every character, from the lingerie saleswoman (RjW Mays) who thrives on employee incentives for reporting theft, to the tough-as-nails T (Stephanie Shum) who never hesitates to call BS but deeply cares for her coworkers, is perfectly drawn, with nuance and heart. Though some of the plot points are fairly predictable, isn’t life – especially life in retail – that way?

Speaking of, Plainclothes should come with a content warning for anyone who’s worked in a store: though the job of loss prevention is specific, the experiences (faceless corporate drones, holidays melting into one another and break-room inside jokes) are highly relatable, almost to the point of pain. As the team endures in-room cameras, politics and betrayals that are sometimes unexpected, their survival instincts are sharp and their struggles oh-so-real. Beautifully written, acted and directed, Plainclothes is unmissable, especially in light of Broken Nose Theatre’s pay-what-you-can tickets. The production tells a story of guerilla employees: rough, ready to scrap and underneath it all, achingly vulnerable.

Rating: ★★★½

Plainclothes continues through December 15th at The Den Theatre, 1331 N. Milwaukee (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays 3pm.  Tickets are pay-what-you-can, and are available by phone (773-697-3830) or online through (check for availability of half-price tickets). More information at time: 2 hours, includes an intermission)

Rob Frankel, Stephanie Shum, Carmen Molina and Adam Soule star in Plainclothes, Broken Nose Theatre

Photos by Austin D. Oie




Kim Boler (Stevie), Elise Marie Davis (Syd), Rob Frankel (Jim), Teresa Kuruvilla (Alma), Ben Locke (Jomal), RjW Mays (Mary), Carmen Molina (Karina), Stephanie Shum (T), Adam Soule (Bobby), Alejandro Tey (Llermo), David Weiss (Pete)

Understudies: Brandon Rodriguez, Adam Huizenga, Krista Gustafson, Rebecca Flores, Anthony Harden, Imani Hayes, Wanda Jin, Zach Finch, Song Marshall, Alison Dornheggen, Chase Wheaton-Werle

behind the scenes

Kanomé Jones and Spenser Davis (co-directors), Evan Frank (scenic design), Rachel Sypniewski (costume design), Michael Joseph (lighting design), Isaac Mandel (sound design), Devon Green (props design), David Weiss (dramaturg), Becca Holloway (assistant director), Therese Ritchie (technical director), Daryl Ritchie (master electrician), Rose Hamill (stage manager), Austin D. Oie (photos)

Alejandro Tey and Adam Soule star as Llermo and Bobby in Plainclothes, Broken Nose Theatre


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Category: 2018 Reviews, Broken Nose Theatre, Den Theatre, Lauren Emily Whalen, New Work, World Premier

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