Theatre Review: “Mafia Daughter” at Theatre on the Square

The cast of Mafia Daughter at TOTS

Last Sunday afternoon I drove to the Theatre on the Square on Massachusetts Avenue in downtown Indianapolis to see the world premiere of “Mafia Daughter,” by local playwright Michael J. Ferruzza.  The playwright also directed the play and stars in it.

 

I went to see it because:

a) I will always be curious about whatever scripts that TOTS’s artistic director, Ron Spencer, selects for TOTS’s always-quirky seasons.  In the past, he has dug up some doozies!

b) I like seeing world premieres in general.  I admire the courage of everyone involved, and I like the adventure of being one of the first to see a new show.

c) My friend, actress Adrienne Reiswerg, is in it.

d) It is about the mafia and I loved both “The Sopranos” TV series and Mario Puzo’s novel, The Godfather.

e) I love the premise: the meek daughter of a powerful mafia don has to overcome her shyness and take over the family’s businesses when her father is sent to jail.  Somehow she succeeds not only in overcoming her own limitations but the sexist limitations of her culture.

e) I have admired every performance I’ve seen from versatile young actress Erin Cohenour, and this play was inspired by her.  She stars in it as the title character.

So…maybe I was expecting too much going in.  I was disappointed by this particular theatrical experience.  In this post I’ll talk briefly about what disappointed me, but as usual, I want to focus on what I appreciated.  I was disappointed, BUT I am glad that I got to see this show.

The disappointments

There were several odd technical choices that distracted, and therefore frustrated me, sitting in the audience.  They kept me from getting caught up in the story.

For example, characters spoke in darkness, at the edge of the lit part of the stage, for no apparent artistic reason, while offstage, actors on their way to the downstairs dressing rooms (I assume) opened doors that let light into the theatre’s dark hallway, drawing our eyes there instead of to the stage.  Two of the male characters wore cheap, ill-fitting wigs, again for no apparent artistic reason.   There was a huge bowl of real spaghetti sauce on the dining room table but no pasta or bread, so the actors “feasted” by spooning little dribbles of the sauce onto their plates and stirring it around with their spoons.  This just looked silly, and therefore was much more distracting than using fake food or even miming the whole meal would have been.  The whole set – the mafia family’s home – seemed shabby, but we were supposed to believe they were wealthy and the envy of all who knew them.  Each scene began with the lights coming up on the characters frozen in place as if in a photograph.  This was an interesting artistic choice at first, but ultimately it just made me antsy.

However, the main disappointment was the script itself.  Although it provoked some laughs on Sunday afternoon, it was not funny enough to be called a satire or a spoof or a lampoon or whatever of mafia classics.  On the other hand, it was not honed enough or original enough to be satisfying as a serious new mafia drama.  I felt as if I were being forced to watch trailers for all five seasons of “The Sopranos” and all three of the “Godfather” movies in one sitting.  The three acts of “Mafia Daughter” were packed with mafia clichés, but there was not enough character development or motivation to make anyone’s actions or growth believable.  On the other hand, there was not enough violence, suspense, sex, or other exciting things to watch that could make the audience forget the lack of character development.

The appreciations

However.

Erin Cohenour as Angelica Angelina, the “Mafia Daughter,” is luminous.  Even if you have never seen her in anything else, seeing her in this show will make you understand why Mike Ferruzza wanted to write a play in which she could star.  She fully embodies the many aspects of her character: demur mafia princess, sexually-awakened mafia goddess, and power-wielding mafia don.  If you already are an Erin Cohenour fan, you will not want to miss seeing her in this.

In fact, seeing her in this, and knowing that she was the playwright’s inspiration, reminded me of a long-forgotten playwriting ambition of my own.  Decades ago, Tony Cerola, who was an actor with whom I had worked at the Phoenix Theatre before it became an Equity theatre, asked me to write a monologue for him.  I was flattered, of course, and I loved the idea of being someone’s writer, but I just couldn’t find my way in to the work.  I have long since lost touch with Tony Cerola and I now get a lot of satisfaction out of writing theatre reviews and prose fiction instead of plays, but seeing this show made me wonder for whom I might want to write a monologue or even a play now, and what kind of play it might be.  I imagine it would be just as difficult for me to write any kind of script now as it was back when Tony asked me, but it is fun to think about!

Although, hmm…maybe it is a mistake to write a play with specific actors in mind.  I’d like to think about this some more, maybe ask some other playwrights I know if they ever take this approach.

Anyway, the rest of the cast in “Mafia Daughter” is admirable, too.   Tristan Ross and Dannon Crews play Angelica’s two misfit brothers, the brash, incompetent Vinnie and the sensitive, theatre-loving Paulie, respectively. I was futilely attracted to both of them.  (I say “futilely” because it is just not a good idea for a nice girl like me to be attracted to gangsters, but there you go.)

Noah Winston plays the FBI bad guy (from the family’s point of view), Tom Raines.  Sean Seager plays the weasel-y neighbor, Eddie Roseatti.  Adrienne Reiswerg plays his mother, the daffy Rosa Roseatti, who yearns to marry the Brando-esque Don Vincent Angelina, Sr., played by Michael J. Ferruzza. K.O. Jackson plays Chops Jefferson Hayes, the non-mafia hoodlum that turns Angelina on.

What do YOU think?

If you saw “Mafia Daughter” and had a more satisfying experience than I did, I’m glad.  Please feel free to leave a comment here for the other readers of my blog to let them know.  As long as you don’t threaten to sue me, or call me names, or curse at anyone, I am happy to have you disagree with me.

If you have not seen “Mafia Daughter” yet and it interested you before you read my thoughts on it, I hope you will still go.  I have always said that everyone should go to shows for themselves and form their own opinions.

“Mafia Daughter” runs through Saturday, June 6, 2009 at Theatre on the Square.  Please call 317-685-TOTS (8687) to make reservations.

Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com

7 thoughts on “Theatre Review: “Mafia Daughter” at Theatre on the Square”

  1. My husband and I attended a Friday night performance of Mafia Daughter and couldn’t disagree with you more. We howled and loved every minute of it. We got the joke why there was no blood, no killing, and why after the matriarch had died the house was falling apart.
    I do agree the lights and the toupees were distracting. But that’s theater, in a sense.
    I married into an Italian family and the dynamic of the relationships within the family were on pretty much on target. My Italian father in law is a no nonsense man from the old school.
    This was no Godfather, no Sopranos for sure. But those were caricatures of Italian culture in the much same way this show spoofs them. And neither of those would ever empower a woman. Erin Cohenoer pulled it off beautifully. I must admit, I left the show beaming.
    I can only praise Ferruza’s performance of the don, too. Magnifico.
    Sorry you had expectations that ruined your experience. We loved it all. And now we are going back to see it again with my hubby’s family..

  2. I actually think you were fairly polite.

    TOTS has failed miserably by accepting this show as a part of their season. I, too, come from a strong italian background and thought this production absolutely missed the mark. Instead of embracing the theatricality possibilities and power of live theatre, TOTS and playwright/director Michael J. Ferruzza kept closed minds and tried to do a stage version of well-known genre hits.

    Throughout I was frowning and wondering WHY this play was chosen to be apart of TOTS otherwise dynamic and well-done season. Don’t blame the theatre, however, TOTS does extremely great work, blame the playwright. This script is underdeveloped and ill-suited for the stage. Mr. Feruzza, submit it to Showtime, not local theatres usually doing great work.

  3. I came into the show having already read the script and expecting it to be incredibly funny. I must say I too was disappointed.

    The jokes were there but something was off either the delivery or the pacing, or something, but so many good ones were missed it was irksome. I will obligingly allow lack of budget and the fact that this is community theatre remain the excuse for the distractingly poor light design and less than convincing set dressing, but I think that this script deserved to be workshopped before put in the public spectrum.

    This was a 2 and 1/2 hour show folks, with two ten-minute intermissions. And it simply wasn’t engaging enough to keep going for that long. I can think of at least 3 scenes off the top of my head that could be cut entirely and it would be fine. The bones of the script are good, I think the danger of directing and starring is what happened here though. How can you really SEE the stage picture when you’re in it? And how can you be objective about the material as a director when you wrote it yourself? The script needs to be worked over.

    I do, however, definitely commend Erin and MJ’s character portrayals, they both acted wonderfully, and I really do think this script has potential. It just needs some serious work-shopping and a more shrewd directing eye.

  4. I thought the script was fine. But I can’t understand where the humor was with some of these actors? There has to be a better talent pool for a show like this in Indy other than just Mr. Ferruzza and Miss Cohenour.
    The show moved along, until it was bogged down by flat acting by Ross and Crews. They missed the comedy by a mile. I did like the story and was not disappointed at all. It was like watching a movie.

  5. Let me preface this by saying that I did not see “Mafia Daughter.” Hope, I am writing to comment on what sounds like your ‘thoughts out loud’ regarding a playwright writing a show for a specific actor in mind. Firstly, I have both worked with Erin on stage and have seen her perform in other shows and gosh darn it, that girl and her incredible talent could and should inspire anyone with a keyboard.
    I have some experience with this. When Steven Cole Johnson and I were auditioning actors for the workshopping of my play, “Whispers,” at Epilogue a few years ago, an actress came in to read for one part. She wasn’t right for the role, but I couldn’t get her out of my mind…so going into rehearsals, I was writing a role specifically for this actress. That actress is Joanne Burleson and the role that she inspired was an audience favorite and truly filled a void that I didn’t even know this play had. And the feedback that I received during the workshop process, not only from the audience, but from the actors as we were in rehearsal made my play so much better and helped me as a writer .
    On that note, as a playwright, I believe in the process of writing and development. I hope that “Mafia Daughter” was workshopped…and not just in the playwright’s own writing group, if he belongs to one. An audience is an invaluable piece to honing a script.
    I believe, also, that it shows the utmost respect to an audience to fine-tune a work before putting it on stage and charging money to see it.
    Thanks for your blog, Hope. Your thoughts always inspire deeper one’s in myself!

  6. I want to share a few things:

    1. I am already arguably one of the biggest Erin Cohenour fans in town. She is a delight on stage in EVERY play she is in. And as her friend, she’s a wonderful actress friend to have because I’m not searching for a compliment to feed her after the show. She is truly remarkable in anything she does, even when she has to overcome difficult hurtles. And, unfortunately, she had to in this production. From technical choices to a script that simply needs to be workshopped and subsequently refined.

    3. In general I feel like this production just feels…hastily assembled. The script needs work. It had some nice moments, and I think there is plenty of potential. Every new script has a journey, and I don’t think this one is there yet. But that’s the whole point, it can’t take the journey if it’s never given the chance. So, in that respect I applaud TOTS for beginning this play’s journey and hope that M.J. continues to make changes. But I also feel costumes, set, lighting, it just felt like the show was put together quickly and with little attention paid to the finer details that ultimately polish a production.

    3. Hope, I read on Indiana Auditions that you were hesitant to share your thoughts because you were disappointed. I am pleased that you did share your thoughts. You do so in a constructive way, and your honesty is appreciated. I can’t speak for everyone, but I know I enjoy reading your honest opinions, whether giving praise or sharing your genuine feedback and disappointment. That’s the whole point of a blog, after all. So, thank you for sharing, truly.

  7. Thanks very much, Mary, Jonas, Sparky, David, Nancy, and Jason, for taking the time to write and post such detailed and interesting comments! I am glad to have read them and I’m sure my other blog readers are, too.

    I also appreciate the encouragement. Very much.

    Nancy, I don’t think I knew you were a playwright as well as an actor. How cool is that! Thanks for sharing your personal experience with writing with a specific actor in mind.

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