DRIVING A BARGAIN, Overdog Productions, at the Athenaeum Theatre. Playwright-director Keir Graff strikes a consumer nerve in his portrayal of the endgame that’s accompanied every automobile sale since the the dawn of car dealerships. Would-be buyer Kevin Huntley (Reid Robinson) and down-on-his-luck car salesman Rod Austin (Robert Buscemi) square off in what escalates into a violent contest of wills. The weapons of choice? For Austin it’s win-win strategizing straight off the motivational tapes; for Huntley it’s unblinking “why won’t you just tell me what the damn car costs?” officiousness, with a dash of hair-trigger terrorism.

Any car buyer can relate to this process and to the set design, with its cubicles, cheap artwork, coffeemaker, and sales-achievement plaques, evoking all the times you’ve signed on the dotted line and left wondering if you got the best deal. However, it’s a stretch to believe in the characters’ face-off. The actors are intense and reckless enough to create a Mametian sense of desperation, but the situation simply doesn’t call for it. It’s a compact car, for crying out loud! Even a has-been salesman on the verge of getting fired would not participate in a conflict of this magnitude just to keep a customer–he’d call security or quit and join a dot-com. Graff needs to craft deeper, perhaps more pathological, definitely more convincing motivations for his characters.

–Kim Wilson