By: Alix Cohen
“New Jersey, relatively contemporarily.” The Don (Bruno Iannone)-cue theme to The Godfather- has decided to “optimize” his organization by handing over second-in-command to the only member of the family who isn’t stupid, niece and MBA, Callie (Courtney Romano.) Callie has the intellectual tools of the Ivy League, the commitments to so-called necessary violence and family of a mafia princess, and the colloquial-peppered accent New Joisey. (Most of the rest of the cast don’t try.)
As her entire romanticized outlaw family has recently been wiped out by law enforcement, the young woman is ripe for anti-establishment responsibility. “Who do you blame,” asks her uncle, “The police for doing their job or society for protecting its interests?” Don Rizzoli points out that he, unlike the government, at least takes responsibility for wacking someone. “It’s a philosophical thing,” Callie responds.
Eddie (David Demato), one of two henchmen who follow Callie around putting things into “effect,” thinks the solution is killing philosophers to make a point. Luther (Tally Sessions,) the more intellectual of the two, concurs. They kidnap straighter than straight, mild mannered, college professor Willie May (Tom White) who has recently lectured on Determinism.
One thing (read philosophical supposition) leads to another and Willie is drawn, first by threat, then revelation, to publically representing the misunderstood gangster class. People get offed. A gang called the Doggs, trying to hold on to territory, raises debate issues (on gangster.com) with their own consigned-for principles. The White House has opinions. Televised news plays on a screen above the stage.
Philosophy For Gangsters is an extremely clever concept. Its dense, expounded systems of belief are outrageous, but sociologically well drawn, though likely to make your head spin if you have no exposure to the field. Formatted like an extended Saturday Night Live skit, the play is nonetheless original. There are, unfortunately, major drawbacks.
Overlong by one third, audience shifts in its seats watching unnecessary scenes. This is compounded by some of the worst staging I’ve witnessed in some time. Endless blackouts linger past patience presumably as sets are reconfigured and between every projected segment. The videos are a fine idea, but its newscasters are so young, they seem to come from a student production. Direction is uninteresting; acting competent, though few distinctive characteristics are evident creating unnecessary sameness.
Tom White’s Willie May is the most fully realized character on stage. The actor’s naturalistic style works well against crazies that surround him. He’s pedantic when lecturing, clearly terrified of his captors, believably quiescent when forced and likeably stunned by his own thought reversal.
Courtney Romano (Callie) doesn’t embody the attitude her dialogue depicts. Her emotions feel flat. We have no sense of thought process in action.
David Demato has sparked moments as Eddie, but in a second role as one of the Doggs, speaks in an ill advised cartoon voice that is annoyingly grating and unreal.
Because of the way the program is written, we have no idea who plays many of the roles. The Dogg in blue deserves a call-out for defined characterization.
Sarah Rose’s Costume Design works like second skin.
*Photos: Carol Rosegg
Rotten Apples Theatrical LLC presents
Philosophy For Gangsters
Written and Directed by Liz Peak and Barry Peak
The Beckett Theatre 410 West 42nd Street
Through March 1