When an undercover FBI operation goes wrong, as it does in Matt Witten's The Deal, you know somebody is going to get hurt. Inspired by a political-corruption case in Boston, The Deal traces a battle of wits and wiretaps between FBI agents and their prey. While impressively executed by the International City Theater, this mildly provocative play does not quite live up to its billing as a "political thriller," seeming instead to aspire to nothing loftier than a typical TV drama. That approach is borne out by the play's structure—it moves rapidly through short jump-cut scenes— and maybe the fact that its playwright is a story editor for Law and Order. None of that would matter if the play kept us on the edge of our seats, but this supposed thriller takes too long to catch fire.
The production, however, provides a showcase for some excellent acting. Joel Anderson creates a believable and improbably sympathetic character in Jimmy, a dimwitted politician (it doesn't hurt that he has the lion's share of the best lines). Also outstanding is Barry Lynch's Tommy, a corrupt wheeler-dealer. Lynch effortlessly emanates shrewdness and menace. And Christopher Murray, as Peter, a conscience-stricken FBI agent, makes a surprising change of heart seem credible.
Thanks to skillful staging, the action moves fluidly back and forth in time and around several different locales. Still, the results are less than riveting. A political "thriller"? For that, try Hillary Clinton vs. Rick Lazio.
The deal at the center Theatre, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach, (562) 436-4610. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. Through July 16. $25-$35.