The phrase "accessories to murder" takes on new meaning in All Dolled Up. Specifically: purses, scarves, and the all-important sensible shoes, none of which any self-respecting gangster would be seen without.
So Bobby Spillane's play, which just opened at the Acorn Theatre after scoring a success in an engagement last year at the Producers Club, will squarely hit the target of its uniquely divided audience base: Lovers and friends of organized crime, and lovers of gay theatre. For the former group, let me just say (and this comes in no way from any fear of retribution) you will laugh yourselves silly. Stop reading immediately and go purchase your tickets.
Are they gone?
For the latter group, and everyone else, know that not even the go-go boots and fashionably low hemlines that feature so prominently can keep All Dolled Up exciting. Spillane and director Susan Campanaro obviously know a good idea when they see one, but have thrown everything they could at the wall in hopes something would stick. That, though, isn't necessarily a sign of good playcrafting: It suggests instead mad chefs incapable of coping with the concept of al dente.
The mob family crime saga, spiced up with the new ingredient of the dress-loving golden boy, is itself a saucy enough concept. But when intertwined with a tale of gay liberation, to the point that it's suggested that this one man - Salvatore, a.k.a Sally (smartly played by Michael Basile) - is responsible for fostering Greenwich Village's image as a gay haven, it is perhaps pushing it.
Spillane's story finds Sally falling in love with the young hippy girl, Patti (Jamie Bonelli), who frees him of his shame for enjoying wearing women's clothes. Sally's connections, particularly with on-the-rise power-broker John (Rocco Parente), initially get him in deep with the highly homophobic mob, but eventually lead to a scheme whereby they all make out like bandits: They join forces to establish a Village bar where homosexuals, crossdressers, and other societal "misfits" can go without violent police intervention, which in the past could only be prevented by greasing officers' palms with "gayola."
Unfortunately, that later part of the story relies on the kinds of coincidences and clichés eschewed by the play's first half, which cleverly focuses on Sally's finding his preferred self and wardrobe. Yes, it all leads to a sight gag in which Sally and Patti, on their wedding day, are both resplendent in elaborate wedding gowns. But it's an effective twist on "coming of age in the mob," which has been done to death by countless films, including the granddaddy of them all, The Godfather.
If the mafia actors do little but embody traditional stereotypes, as might be found in those films, they all do it lovingly: There's the quietly controlling Don (John F. O'Donohue) to the hyper-intellectual (Christo Parenti) and even the dopey moll wife (Campanaro herself) as the power behind the throne, all believable, if overdone.
But when the scene switches to the Village, the acting style switches to caricature. Parenti becomes a flaming leather queen, the token lesbian (Alyssa Truppelli) makes the libidinous mob guys look Puritans, and two other actors (Tomm Bauer and Matt Gallagher) are so over-the-top flaming that you want to drench them with a bucket of water.
Only Basile and Bonelli create real people, and both live up to their challenge of supplying the show's strongly beating romantic heart. Basile is especially terrific in the mob scenes, grippingly believable as the tough guy who's always got softer things on his mind. But you can see him physically struggling against the temptation to go overboard every time he puts on a dress; in the second half of the show, it's a battle he very nearly loses.
Spillane (son of "Gentleman Gangster" Mickey Spillane) doesn't make it easy, with dialogue for Sally that teeters precariously on the edge of acceptability; Sally has a few too many jokey lines about men for someone this resolutely straight. And though the season has just started, Campanaro's staging is already setting a standard with lethargy that few upcoming productions will be able to surpass.
She, like Spillane, is apparently counting on the eccentric subject matter to sell itself. For the right audience members (who hopefully have their tickets by now), it undoubtedly will. For everyone else, this show is just a real drag.
All Dolled Up