The Last Vig

by Dale Reynolds

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday January 19, 2017

Burt Young
Burt Young   

David Varriale's drama about the fading out of a previously prominent Mafia goombah, "The Last Vig," directed by the playwright, has serious balls as a play, with requisite tensions, authentic dialogue, and performances worthy of the production. With one exception: its lead, Burt Young, an otherwise quality character actor, turned in a less-than-stellar performance on opening night.

Oscar-nominated Young (for his superlative work in the first "Rocky" film), 76, had his lines written down in front of him as he apparently could not remember them -- a not uncommon failing for us oldsters, but was also negatively compounded by a quiet, wispy voice, making Varriale's dialogue often inaudible. This is a goddam shame as Young had a full characterization going on in this comfortable, if small, space -- if only we could hear it.

The title-phrase "the last vig" is obscure to the point of nonsense. It stands for "a cut charged by a bookmaker for processing a bet," which might mean what crooked loan-sharks take off the top of a loan, or some other hidden meaning not explored in the dialogue (or that we lost it somehow). But Varriale made us listen carefully to his instructive speeches with the other actors having full volume at all times.

Especially good in his play were Gareth Williams as another gang member, Jimmy D; Bruce Nozick, as a detective-on-the-take, Ray Price; Clint Jung as Paul Li, the owner of the Chinese restaurant that acts as a front for Big Joe's nefarious activities, and young Ben Adams as a not-particularly-bright assistant to Joe, Bocce. Lizzie Peet's over the phone vocal delivery was spot-on in her ailing and exhausted New York wife of Big Joe.

Joel Daavid's set design is properly grungy and crowded, befitting the characters who work in it, aided by Kelley Finn's lighting design. Mylette Nora's costumes, while simple, added the actors in their look.

Young might improve during the run and Varriale's play could transfer to NYC for a successful run if it succeeds here. In spite of Young's painful memory issues, he and it are worth noticing.

"The Last Vig" runs through February 19 at the Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles 90046. For tickets or information, call 323-960-7712 or visit www.TheLastVig.com.