Exact Change, Cenacle Theatre Company, at Pilsen Theatre. What was a one-act in 1989 is now two acts long–a wise decision on the part of playwright David Epstein. Where the earlier version opened with three Vietnam vets on the run after having botched a kidnapping, this one introduces us to a trio of fundamentally gentle Jersey homeboys whose wartime adventures were as petty as the lives they left behind. We also learn that their clumsily executed snatch is a last-ditch effort to secure their dream of being in busness for themselves, a dream jeopardized when one of them loses the money earmarked for final payment to the shark holding the mortgage on their tavern.

Even with an improved script, two hours of three guys sittin’ around talkin’ is not inherently exciting–especially the play’s now hackneyed weeps over poor, misunderstood Viet vets. But this Cenacle Theatre ensemble makes a wholesale commitment to the material. The three actors assembled by director Micheal Kott–David Hart Waggoner, Jamie Vann, and Robert John Keating–immerse themselves in their roles, forging sympathetic personalities despite Epstein’s occasional cliches. And because they make us like these characters, we respond to their familiar tales of blue-collar ennui. So when one of them declares with feeble optimism, “The great thing about this country–you can always get a fresh start,” we actually hope they get theirs soon.

–Mary Shen Barnidge