Oscar nominee Chazz Palminteri and Tony nominee Elizabeth Rodriguez bring their Hollywood/Broadway talent/star power to Kenny D’Aquila’s savagely funny goodfellas comedy Unorganized Crime, now getting its World Premiere at Hollywood’s Lillian Theatre under David Fofi’s razor-sharp direction.
Playwright D’Aquila stars as Gino Sicuso, the second son of New York’s Third Largest Crime Family, banished to Dearborn, Michigan for a finger that, try as it might, can’t seem to manage the trigger-pulling required for a life in organized crime.
Reduced these days to waiting tables to pay the rent, Gino can at least congratulate himself on his luck in the wedding sweepstakes with his marriage to sexy, sassy, seductive—and considerably younger, Rosie (Rodriguez). Unfortunately, the paltry waiter’s paycheck hubby brings home means that his semi-retired hooker spouse can’t quite give up sex work, though she limits intercourse with her occasional sex partners to the “Out Of Box Special,” in other words “tip-in” only.
Admittedly, a part-time-hooking wife may not sit all that well with Gino, but hey, life’s a trade-off, and at least amateur therapist Rosie has come up with a nifty way for her man to get back at the rude, selfish, stingy customers who make his restaurant-life a living hell, one we get to witness in Unorganized Crime’s hilarious opening sequence, which has Gino taking out his frustrations on a pair of life-size dummies seated at opposite ends of the apartment’s restaurant-style dining room table.
Gino’s attacks on his evil-albeit-inanimate customers have just graduated from verbal threats to outright physical violence when who should pop by for a visit but older brother Sal (Palminteri), a hooded prisoner (Carmen Argenziano) in tow and an assignment for Gino:
If the younger Sicuso brother wishes to “earn his bones” (and thereby get back into his family’s good graces), he has only to off the anonymous stranger—and not fuck it up this time round.
Wishing to put his years of banishment behind him, Gino quickly agrees to the hit, and who cares who the prisoner might be?
Then Sal removes the man’s hood and all bets are off.
Producers goof majorly in not billing Argenziano simply as Prisoner in cast list and bio, but that’s pretty much Unorganized Crime’s sole mishap, though truth be told, this reviewer’s unfamiliarity with the genre (no, I’ve never seen Goodfellas or Palminteri’s A Bronx Tale or watched even an episode of The Sopranos) left me more than a bit taken aback by the play’s ultimate savagery.
Still, at a lickety-split 80 minutes or so, Unorganized Crime not only does not outstay its welcome, it has its audience members frequently amused, occasionally aghast, and on the edge of their seats throughout.
Elephant Theatre Company productions like Love Sick, Parasite Drag, and Anything have demonstrated director Fofi’s expertise at the daring and the edgy, and the very Fofian Unorganized Crime is no exception.
It hardly hurts that in leading man Palminteri, Fofi’s not only got a star with a film/TV career that would normally preclude 99-Seat Plan theater, his leading man was born to play men like A Bronx Tale’s Sonny, Bullets Over Broadway’s Cheech (the role that scored Palminteri an Oscar nom), and Unorganized Crime’s Sal. This is one tough cookie you don’t want knocking on your door, and Palminteri plays the sociopathic Mafioso like nobody’s business.
D’Aquila’s softer, gentler Gino more than holds his own against older brother Sal, displaying a wry comedic flair in the role playwright D’Aquila clearly wrote with actor D’Aquila in mind. (Good thinking, even better writing and acting.)
As for Rodriguez, it’s no wonder the native New Yorker snagged that 2011 Tony nomination for her performance as the foul-mouthed Veronica in Stephen Adly Guirgis’s The Motherfucker With The Hat. As her newest creation makes perfectly clear, Rodriguez can not only hurl the F-word with the best of them, she’s a fire-breathing dragon of an actress, and Unorganized Crime’s World Premiere benefits enormously from her presence.
An explosive Argenziano (brilliantly Scenie-winning as Alzheimer’s-plagued genius Robert in Proof two years back) plays his part with equal parts arrogance and disdain.
Jack Topalian completes the cast terrifically as swarthy landlord Haakim, more than willing to allow Gino’s rent to be a few days late in exchange for an upstairs freebie with Rosie. (It’s more than okay if Gino stays downstairs and listens.)
Unorganized Crime’s sensational look (scenic designer Joel Daavid’s detailed rundown living-room/kitchen set, Daavid’s expert lighting design, and recent L.A. Theater Awards Trifecta winner Michael Mullen’s snazzy costumes) would look just as classy on a mid-sized Equity stage. Peter Bayne’s sound design and original music are equally crackerjack, as are Richard Miranda’s specialty props. Choreographer Laura Harrison and fight choreographer Edgar Landa get bodies moving in quite different, equally dexterous ways.
Casting is by Amy Lieberman. Ben Karasik is production manager. Forrest Lancaster is weapons specialist. Meghan Cox and Aaron Lyons are stage managers and J. Cody Andersen and Josh Benton are assistant stage managers. Nicki Genovese is general manager and Dave Finkelstein is executive producer. Unorganized Crime is produced by Palminteri and Josh Silver.
In a program note, Palminteri explains his presence in Unorganized Crime as a way of “paying it forward” to playwright D’Aquila just as director/costar Robert DeNiro paid it forward to the fledgling screenwriter/film actor with 1993’s A Bronx Tale.
Even without Palminteri’s presence, Unorganized Crime would be well worth seeing. With its star so close to the audience that you could almost reach out and touch a bona fide Oscar nominee, it is certain to be a crowd-pleasing sell-out during its all-too-brief four-week run.
Lillian Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Through May 31. Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8:00. Sundays at 7:00. Reservations: 800 595-4849
May 8, 2014
Photos: David Reichert