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.
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.
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