Entertainment » Theatre

Unorganized Crime

by Les Spindle
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday May 12, 2014
Chazz Palminteri, Elizabeth Rodriguez and Kenny D’Aquila
Chazz Palminteri, Elizabeth Rodriguez and Kenny D’Aquila   (Source:Daniel Reichert)

Considering the qualities connoted by "unorganized" and "disorganized," two similar but not identical terms, effective dramaturgy requires some sort of master plan to yield a work that connects with an audience. Kenny D'Aquila's new play, "Unorganized Crime" has a few narrative twists in store, though it's a fairly schematic drama about a Mafia-esque family in meltdown mode, a genre that endured in popular films for decades.

During a taut 75 minutes, this premiere production plays out like a gritty potboiler with a Martin Scorsese feel and a touch of Frances Ford Coppola family tragedy (a la "The Godfather'). It's an irresistible ride deftly directed by David Fofi. The best news in this world premiere production is the work of a stellar cast, headed by the charismatic Chazz Palmenteri (noted for "A Bronx Tale," "The Usual Suspects" and the film version of "Bullets Over Broadway") and Elizabeth Rodriguez, who earned a Tony nomination and won an Outer Critics Circle award for "The Motherfucker With the Hat."

Taking the choice role of Gino Sicuso, playwright D'Aquila excels as a member of a ruthless Manhattan crime family who couldn't quite cut the mustard amid the clan's evil deeds, and has retreated to Michigan. He represses his anger while working as a waiter and dealing with fussy customers who get on his nerves.

In a hilarious opening scene, he practices releasing his pent-up fury while pretending to wait on two large cloth dummies seated at his kitchen table. There's also immediate tension evident between Gino and his hard-edged wife, Rosie (Rodriguez), a sexy former hooker who has never entirely ditched that profession, though she despises working out the overdue rent with the lecherous landlord, Haakim (Jack Topalian).

D’Aquila has fashioned a superb role for himself, and manages to walk a tightrope between eliciting empathy and contemptibility for his wayward family black sheep.

Tension immediately heats up with the arrival of Gino's controlling older brother Sal (Palminteri), the sort of weasel who feigns suaveness but evokes chills by simply entering the room. Sal has a devious revenge scheme in the works. He offers Gino a chance to at last make his mark in the family's shady profession if his bro can summon up what it takes to participate in a grisly undertaking, involving a hooded captive, Carmelo (Carmen Argenziano), who Sal brings into the apartment.

To reveal more would spoil some nifty surprises. Suffice it to say that this family is a far cry from the Brady Bunch, and the tension steadily builds under Fofi's expertly modulated direction. It's not surprising that Palminteri delivers a bravura portrayal, eliciting power through ingenious underplaying rather than chewing up the scenery.

D'Aquila has fashioned a superb role for himself, and manages to walk a tightrope between eliciting empathy and contemptibility for his wayward family black sheep. Rodriguez is a force of nature as the ball-busting spouse who is pitiable one moment, and suspicious the next. Argenziano and Topalian excel in supporting, yet crucial, roles.

Joel Daavid's superbly ambient set captures the crummy quality of Gino's woebegone life, and his lighting design is likewise atmospheric. Peter Bayne's sound design and original music add to the mood, and Michael Mullen's costumes are credible and well conceived. Star power and solid craftsmanship coalesce in this consummately enjoyable premiere offering.

"Unorganized Crime" runs through May 31 at the Lillian Theatre, 1076 N. Lillian Way, Hollywood. For tickets or information, call 800-595-4849 or visit www.tix.com.

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