VENUE #7: Connelly Theater
Performance seen: Sat 20 @ 7:15
Remaining performances: Wed 24 @ 9:15 Sat 27 @ 4 Sun 28 @ 3:30
(using the BroadwayWorld rating system of 10=effusive praise; 9=excellent; 7/8=positive with some reservations; 5/6=respectfully unenthused; 3/4=mostly negative; 2=little to recommend; 1=offended, insulted, angered)
Few plays, at the Fringe or elsewhere, approach complicated themes, like the ambiguous nature of evil, or man’s eternal quest for salvation, with as much confidence as “Felony Friday.”
Paul Giaciomatti, scion of a New York crime family, finds himself locked up for the weekend after cops plant drugs in the trunk of his smashed-up car on a Friday night. It seems Paul and his cousin Tony have been reducing the number of the devil’s minions by killing killers and rapists, a la Murder, Inc. Their latest victim is Jack, a corrupt cop who raped Paul’s cousin Angela, and it’s in Jack’s body that Paul is visited by one of the devil’s top lieutenants.
The others in the lockup include a transvestite hooker and his john; BBI, an ex-boxer; and a hippie dude replete with a Castaway/Gump beard, a joke that is exploited endlessly, mostly to good effect.
After a reasonably brief prolegomenon in which each character is introduced with a moment in the spotlight, the real action begins with the arrival of Jack, played brilliantly by the play’s author. I don’t know if Scott Decker does as well with roles he doesn’t himself create; if he does, I want to see everything he ever performs in.
Unfortunately, the play’s second act goes much like the first, except that it takes much longer for Jack to return on stage, a digression that feels yet longer still because this time around we’ve already been privy to Decker’s magnetic pull and are impatient for its return.
The digression consists of little more than an extended, and quite tired, riff on race relations and the words we use for race, occasioned by the twin introduction to the lockup of a new inmate, CJ, and Paul’s cousin Tony, who has contrived to get himself locked up in order to help Paul battle Jack. The play comes to a grinding halt as we consider the reasons blacks can use the n-word while whites cannot. Yawn.
All of the actors stumbled over their lines in this performance, especially John Amos as BBI, the ex-boxer. While the inevitable kinks of opening night surely played a part—in Amos’s case especially, because he came to the play only a few weeks earlier—I think there was another reason.
The worst stumbles occurred in this first half of Act II and I think it’s precisely because the material is so aimless. The cast, led by Joe Wissler as Paul, is uniformly excellent, and Amos in particular is a fine actor who surely would have no trouble memorizing a relatively small part. But without any beats to go on, some of the lines sound similar to others, and it must be easy to get lost.
Better would be to just lose the additional character, CJ (well played by
Jas AndersonJaime Smith), get Tony into the action right away, find some other, less artificial way to engage BBI in the story, and get Jack back on stage quickly.
If, in the course of losing this mostly useless material, the play shed a few of its 135 minutes, so much the better—indeed, it could be tighter all around. For example, there’s a terrific set of jokes early on riffing on nicknames in general and prison nicknames in particular. But then it’s dropped—Paul is never even referred to by the new name he has negotiated for himself. A play is not a novel. These kinds of digressions are self-indulgent luxuries that can’t be allowed to make the editorial cut. Every gun, not just the one above the mantel, has to go off.
When the play finally shifts out of neutral, it picks up speed quickly, and by the end is flying down the highway as quickly as it did in most of Act I. The action builds nicely, the revelations explode as they should, and the ending is one of those shocks that come as no surprise. It also left me thinking, as it intended to, about retribution and redemption.
[more fringe 2011 reviews here]