Thursday, February 13, 2014

Review of "Philosophy for Gangsters" -- Off-Broadway

Do you know those “Saturday Night Live” sketches that are funny and clever within their few minute time span, but then because they are funny and clever the concept is stretched into a full-length movie?  The results are usually a disaster—“MacGruber,” “It’s Pat,” and “A Night at the Roxbury” are just a few of the disappointing examples.  I bring this up because the new Off-Broadway show, Philosophy for Gangsters, a comedy with very few laughs, has the same mistaken premise—take an idea, which would be funny and clever for a 5-10 minute skit and misguidedly expand it to a 2 ¼ hour play.

Callie Rizzoli is the college-educated daughter of a Mafia family.  After her parents and brothers are gunned down during a police raid, she and some of the boys, ruminate about their demise deciding to blame it on determinism, that which guides our destiny and choices.  So, naturally, who do they hold responsible for this philosophical notion—a Professor of Philosophy, Wilfred May, from the local university.  They kidnap him and look to execute him as a representative of philosophy instructors everywhere as well as because of his personal beliefs.  But before they carry out their plans, the gangsters come up with the idea of forcing the faculty member to draft a philosophical manifesto that both rebukes determinism and provides the theoretical underpinnings for their life of crime.  The professor becomes an unwitting and, at first, unwilling pawn in their warped machinations and from there the plot spirals into tediousness and banality.

Courtney Romano as the slick talking Callie Rizzoli gives a good impression of Marisa Tomei from “My Cousin Vinny;” Tom White as the Philosophy Professor Wilfred May is bland and unsympathetic; and Bruno Iannone as The Don does a not-so-great imitation from any “Godfather” movie.  The rest of the cast is just as two-dimensional with little nuance and distinction. 

The script by Liz and Barry Peak rambles on for far too long.  This could have easily been a shorter production.  The script is somewhat convoluted that, by the end, leaves you scratching your head as to the thrust of the production.  Serving as both playwrights and directors was a disservice to them and the show.  As directors they could have asked for more judicious editing as well as a storyline with better structure.  The flow also continuously stalls from the blackouts between scenes as the action continually switches back and forth from the two side-by-side sets.

The only bright spot of the show are the video vignettes of news reports and man-in-the-street interviews that are intermittently projected above the stage.  They are humorous, creative, and well-produced.

Philosophy for Gangsters, playing through March 1st at the Beckett Theatre Off-Broadway.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Review of "Outside Mullingar" - Broadway

A rather unconventional courtship is taking place at the Samuel J. Friedman theatre where John Patrick Shanley’s quirky, romantic comedy, Outside Mullingar, is now playing.

Debra Messing is Rosemary Muldoon, a no-nonsense woman of the land who, now that her father has just passed away, must run the family farm on her own.  Brian O’Byrne is Anthony Reilly, a melancholy loner who operates a farm adjacent to Rosemary’s spread in the Irish countryside.  The two, nearing 40 years of age, have known each other since they were little tykes.  While acquaintances, their relationship has never progressed beyond a standoffish association, much to the chagrin of Rosemary.  Their connection is thrown into flux after her father’s funeral when she and Anthony, along with her mother and his father, gather in the Reilly kitchen to reminisce, bicker, and open old wounds.  A minor land feud and talk of disinheritance then sets the plot into motion, which after the death of the aged parents, propels the show’s romance forward.

Shanley, who won the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award for Doubt as well as an Academy Award for the screenplay of Moonstruck, has written a somewhat screwball comedy, idiosyncratic in nature that slowly builds to its satisfying conclusion.  His two central characters—Rosemary and Anthony—are richly layered with enough foibles and eccentricities to populate all the towns folk in their quaint village.

Debra Messing’s is highly satisfying in her return to the stage.  She is decidedly unglamorous in her portrayal of Rosemary as the actress plays against type from her two most well-known roles, in the television shows, Will and Grace and Smash.  She is candid, outspoken, and straight-shooting, yet there is also a degree of vulnerability and sadness to her character.

Brian O’Byrne is marvelous as the brooding, disheartened Anthony.   He is defensive and low-key, but underneath yearning to assert his manhood and place in society.  You feel for him, a bundle of nervous uneasiness seeking his last chance at happiness.

Peter Maloney as the elder Reilly and Dearhbla Molloy as the patriarch, Aoife Muldoon, are masterful during their time on stage, whether delivering comic zingers or emotional lamentations.  Their performances form the perfect ying to their younger counterpart’s yang.

Director Doug Hughes allows the action to unfold slowly and deliberately, never pushing too hard for a quick resolution.  He gives the actors enough room to develop their character’s quirks and insecurities in an honest, matter-of-fact fashion. 

Outside Mullingar, a perfect valentine to share with that special someone, now through March 16th.