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.