In Five Short Plays Loosely Linked by the Theme of Crime, writer Charles Edward Pipe explores the theme of crime in, well, five short plays. The result is a fun series of vignettes that are as funny as they are morbid.
The stories span from the Old West to the present day, mostly exploring the how commonplace interpersonal dynamics affect the romantic, cinematic idea of robbing a bank or stealing a boat. In one story, three cowboys have just robbed a bank, but can’t figure out how to split the money fairly. Another is about an old man and woman steal a boat to Cuba to bypass the trade embargo, for some of the rum and cigars they enjoyed as a young couple, and the strain this places on their relationship that these decisions lead to.
The stories that clearly ape the recognisable film tropes of westerns and gangster films are fun. Pipe makes no endeavour to hide his influences – stories recognisably contain the DNA of Quentin Tarantino, Guy Richie, and especially the comedic nihilism of The Coen Brothers.
The western segment is as funny and bleak enough to not seem out of place in the Coens own anthology The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. However, the most impactful of the short plays is as far from an exploitation film as you can get, and instead is a very funny observation on human pragmatics. A gangster shows up to the house of a man that owes the boss money, but they recognise each other from school.
They engage in the kind of polite chit chat that anyone who has bumped into a vaguely recognisable face will relate to, but applying this to a situation where the social contract means that one party still has to rough the other up with a hammer is such a funny premise that I could have happily watched a whole play based on the idea.
Though all the plays have their merits, a couple of the premises are a little bit too similar to each other, especially when you consider how broad the theme of ‘crime’ that the piece gives itself is. Nevertheless, Five Short Plays Loosely Based on the Theme of Crime is a consistently creative anthology that masterfully walks the tightrope between light and dark.