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BWW Reviews: Elephant Theatre Plays Out UNORGANIZED CRIME

Unorganized Crime/by Kenny D'Aquila/directed by David Fofi/Elephant Theatre/through May 31

Kenny D'Aquila's world premiere one-act play Unorganized Crime is about a contemporary New York family of gangsters a la Mario Puzo's The Godfather, except it limits itself to crime within the family ranks as opposed to outside connections. With a superb cast and direction, what could come off as mere grit or glorification of violence has an undeniable sense of humor that sets it apart, now at the Elephant Theatre in Hollywood through the end of this month.

Playwright D'Aquila, who also plays son Gino Sicuso, sets the very beginning of the 75-minute play in the dining room of Gino and Rosie's (Elizabeth Rodriguez) run-down Detroit home, with two silly-looking manikins facing each other at the dining room table as if they were customers eating in a restaurant. Gino, now a waiter in a local establishment, comes home every night and takes his repressed aggravation out on the two dummies that he pretends to serve. This whole set-up of an unhappy man who is releasing his pent-up emotions on disgruntled customers as a therapy session is nothing short of hilarious. As set-up, though, it is misleading, for what follows is hardly a comedy. In fact, it's deadly serious. Gino's mobster brother Sal (Chazz Palminteri) pays an unexpected visit to Gino's with some surprising news. Gino's mom took a bullet intended for his gangster father and died as a result...32 days before. The father did not let Gino know to purposely keep him away from the funeral and the family. As we learn, Gino was a failure at the family business, a coward who has never been able to live up to his father's or brother's standards, and so forced to withdraw and live in Detroit. He still gets a monthly check from his parents. However, it's quite obvious that Gino is dissatisfied with his exclusion; he is still trying to overcome his cowardice and live up to what his family - and wife Rosie, consider success. But the bottom line? He's a failure, a weakling who, when he can't pay the rent on time, allows the landlord (Jack Topalian) to take advantage of Rosie in their upstairs bedroom. Rosie is getting fed up with her life with Gino... and with Sal's visit, come possibilities of change, but not without a few violent concessions.

D'Aquila, Palminteri, and Rodriguez are real pros at playing out this type of scenario: where in crime, there's no room for a change of heart, no place for Mr. Nice Guy. Rodriguez especially plays to the hilt Rosie's toughness and willingness to do anything to try to get ahead. Palminteri could play Sal in his sleep; gangsters are his specialty. His portrait of Sal is right on the money. D'Aquila is wonderful to watch as he squirms and drowns in a sea of insecurity. Topalian is delicious as the slimy sleazeball landlord and Carmen Argenziano as the surprise visitor/prisoner, like Palminteri, seems to fit the mobster bill to perfection. David Fofi's pacing is just right and the action never lags for a split second. Joel Daavid's old-style set and low-key lighting add a creepy mood to the proceedings.

Unorganized Crime is the kind of dark play that American audiences love. They eat up every foul word or phrase, every rough act of violence, particularly when it mixes with sex. We're not known world-wide for our violent tastes in movies for nothing. If you loved The Sopranos and other shows about mafia families, this one's for you. For those more timid souls...well, on the plus side, it's beautifully directed, acted, and even D'Aquila's script has some very enjoyably comedic moments.

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From This Author Don Grigware