by Tracey Paleo, Gia On The Move
David Varriale has created some specific characters in his new play The Last Vig, which as star actor Burt Young (Big Joe) remarked in a recent interview, “…could be any guy from Mulberry Street to Washington. D.C.” I would have to agree.
In fact, it could be noted that Varriale’s best talent is in actually capturing the nuances, good, bad and ugly, loud and quiet, of people who deeply reflect intriguing insight about themselves through language and behavior. And given that these are a bunch of multi-ethnic wiseguys, three of which are Italian, well, there’s plenty of that.
But although, moments may be telling and characters revealing, in and of themselves they do not paint an entire picture or tell a whole story or even a good one sometimes. And that is what’s kinda, sorta missing in this new production at the Zephyr Theatre about an aging mob boss trying to stay in the game.
What we have are a lot of back door exchanges, the boss with his young, hip-hop devoted assistant Bocce (Ben Adams), the Chinese restaurant owner Paul Li (Clint Jung), long time friend Jimmy “The Fixer” D. (Garreth Williams), the angry cop-on-the-take, Detective Ray Price (Bruce Nozick) and Joe with his wife on the phone, incapacitated by cancer, that don’t always serve up enough of a story.
As individuals, I would argue that the characters are somewhat archetypally written and have an average likable score, I would also argue most people probably have a generalized film glamor point of view about wiseguys, how they regularly behave and what they actually do. Here, though, Varriale adds a bit more on-the-ground reality.
Personally, growing up around these guys daily was at one time my actual, real life. And while everyone loves to tell you how it really is, how it actually was, was pretty ordinary. Sure there were plenty of over-the-top reactions to many situations, some as silly as – who was gonna open the #$%^!&* coffee shop at 5 am. More often, when it came down to something serious, subtlety prevailed – a lot like how Varriale has written The Last Vig.
The crew in The Last Vig are definitely bad, distrustful, violent guys with hardly any redeeming qualities, except that they can muster a bit of charm when needed. And justice (very loosely termed in this situation) gets obstructed or completely derailed by circumstances, not within anyone’s control. So it’s possible that $100,000 gone missing or intimidation from one’s thorn, might result in some big repercussions. Both Big Joe and Jimmy D. are past their hot-head stage. And finesse is key. Everyone gets played.
There are certainly challenges in this production from the too many telephone interludes to Young’s pacing to the writing to length, which could be shaved. The ending never really addresses Bocce’s character for instance although, by all the references made, we can probably guess his intent. The audience is left to “figure it out.”
What shines in The Last Vig is the strong cast who are working at a higher level with character reality and boosting Young with amped energy, timing and focus, helping him throughout the production. They are THAT good at moving around inside this writing as just a bunch of street guys, Garreth Williams (Jimmy D.) giving one of the most honest, insider portrayals I’ve ever witnessed to date on stage.