Review by Marilyn Lester
In U.S. legal parlance, proffer or “queen for a day” letters are written federal agreements granting certain immunities to those under criminal investigation. As the title suggests (and a bit more, it turns out), herein lies the crux of the play.
Giovanni “Nino” Cinquimani (David Proval), a senior-citizen mobster, paces and smokes as his sanguine attorney, Sanford Weiss, assures him that the proffer deal is sound. Some laughs (soon to fade away into grimness) and a gun are produced. Those who know their Chekov will understand the gun must be fired before the play ends. The set, an abandoned warehouse, by Andreea Mincic, is intelligently spare, and combined with lighting by Isabella F. Byrd, provide perfect atmospheric support as the action unfolds.
David Deblinger, as Weiss, acquits himself well as the world-weary mob lawyer. Problems begin when Patricia Cole, the Federal deal-maker enters. Deblinger’s character has little to do from there on but sit around scribbling notes on a yellow legal pad. Cole, played by Portia, is one angry woman. But why? There’s no apparent answer to this question. and if there is, it’s lost in the one-dimensional portrayal of the character, a human battering ram without a hint of character-defining subtlety.
Cole and Nino go at it in a confusing and repetitious exchange of hostility. Too many questions continue to be unanswered: would a real proffer interrogation be conducted like this, in a place like this? Is Nino really that clueless about his role in the Mafia? Is it really necessary to know the minutia of his childhood? Proval is a seasoned actor; he gives Nino all the depth he can, but it’s not enough to save the flawed writing. When a playwright asks an audience to suspend disbelief, not only should there should be a good reason, but writing scintillating enough to warrant the work’s premise. Author Michael Ricigliano has written a literate piece, but one that just doesn’t hold together. Director John Gould Rubin compensates by keeping the pace fast and the action sustained, moving his actors around the stage with a deft hand.
At the climax of the play the first reveal is a head-scratcher, prompting the question, what was the point of all that? The second reveal, the explosive end of “A Queen for a Day,” brings on Vincent Pastore as Pasquale “Pat” Cinquimani, brother to Nino (and for a brief minute, Pat’s “Enforcer,” Sally, played by Richard O’Brien). Pastore is a masterful presence. The interaction between the two aging brothers is beautifully played. The chemistry between these old pros is attention-grabbing. But beyond the old tropes of “family” and “loyalty,” the “high concept” of “A Queen for a Day,” proves to be built on a house of cards – hence more absurd than dramatic.
In reality, today’s Italian Mafia isn’t what it used to be, and “A Queen for a Day” strives to illuminate that. Yet, the premise, with its Shakespearean ending, ultimately fails to satisfy. The Italian Mafia has always been an organization of fascination for artistic interpretation. Perhaps diehards of the genre will still find “A Queen for a Day” entertaining fare.
The creative team for “A Queen for a Day,” includes Bobby Tilley (Costume Designer), Leon Rothenberg (Sound Designer), Arielle Toelke (Effects Designer), Libby Jensen (Production Manager), and Erin Cass (Stage Manager).
“A Queen for a Day,” running time 90 minutes without intermission, Opening May 3 through July 26, Sunday – Tuesday at 7PM; Thursday – Saturday at 8PM; matinees on Saturday at 2PM, Sunday at 3PM
Theatre at St. Clement’s, 423 West 46 Street, 866-811-4111 or 212-352-3101, www.aqueenforadayplay.com
*Photo: Russ Rowland