BWW Review: THE PRINCE OF PROVIDENCE at Trinity Rep
Once upon a time, back in the days when the Wall Street Journal had the nerve to call Providence "a smudge" on the way to Cape Cod, before we could brag about Waterfire or Viola, we had Buddy. And Buddy - Providence Mayor Vincent A. "Buddy" Cianci, Jr. - had a unique way of putting Providence and Rhode Island on the map.
Based on journalist Mike Stanton's book of the same name and adapted to the stage by George Brant, The Prince of Providence, chronicles the drama of Buddy's life from his first mayoral campaign to the Operation Plunder Dome trial. And there's plenty of drama to cover-the play runs two hours and forty-five minutes and its nonstop excitement.
And while this topic is perfect for Trinity and a Rhode Island audience - who will know just what Buddy's going to do with that fireplace log - this show stands on its own and would wow anywhere. It is jam-packed with compelling characters, honest laughs, and plenty of surprises, infusing elements of musical theatre and touches of Joey and Maria's Italian Wedding. It all combines to create an unforgettable night of theatre.
The action starts fast and under Taibi Magar's direction it goes full steam ahead with one outrageous episode after another, right up until the unpredictable ending.
Scott Aiello creates a captivating Buddy, equally endearing and repellent. By the end of the play, it's as though he's channeled the late mayor right into the room.
Although Buddy's story is often described as "Shakespearean" it's important to remember that the true story behind the play is still in recent memory. Its cast of characters are not Elizabethan and remote, but real people, some still living. In any Rhode Island audience there may be individuals with no more than one or two degrees of separation (this is Rhode Island, no need for six degrees) away from a real person represented by a "character" on the stage. Brilliantly, though, these "characters" are portrayed in an over-the-top, caricature-ish way that takes us one step away from reality. Particularly effective at this are Brian McEleney, Joe Wilson, Jr. and Charlie Thurston.
Rebecca Gibel and Janice Duclos give particularly moving performances respectively as Sheila Cianci, Buddy's wife, and Linda Jannsen, his loyal secretary.
Wigs are an important aspect of this show, especially given Buddy's well-known use of "rugs," and the hair designs are spot-on, from Sheila's blonde flip to the 1970s extensions on Erick Betancourt's Mickey Corrente (a composite character representing two of Buddy's associates) to the all-important toupee, practically a character in its own right. Olivera Gajec's costume designs capture not only the looks of the decades represented without cliché, but the fashions of Providence.
Oddly though, one thing that Trinity got wrong in this show was the accent. It was uneven, sometimes overly done and all over the map, literally, a little too Brooklyn, a little too My Cousin Vinny.
However, whether you love Buddy, hate Buddy, love to hate Buddy, or hate that you love Buddy; there's plenty to love about The Prince of Providence.
The Prince of Providence has been extended until October 27 at Trinity Repertory Company, 201 Washington St., Providence, Rhode Island, with limited tickets available through lottery. For more information, see www.trinityrep.com.