Saturday 18 February 2017

Corleone a hit! a hita palpable hit!
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)
Michael Corleone and fiancee Kay share a warm moment.  Photo by Ron Reed
From the footlights : When first I espied the subtitle to David Mann's Corleone script -- The Shakespearean Godfather -- a wee sotte voce rebuke issued forth : "Stupido! What more logical and clever a twist than this...?" Take Mario Puzo's novel + Francis Ford Coppola's iconic movies about la cosa nostra. Throw 80 minutes of iambic pentameter flourishes into the mix. Add a bunch of soliloquies. All from a partially dysfunctional family beset by jealousies and power-grabs, murder and general mayhem. What could be more Shakespearean than that mash-up?

Oh yes. One more ingredient. Eighteen women who join together under the Classic Chic theatre troupe banner as actors & producers. Formed in 2014, Classic Chic prides itself on casting women in men's roles, the flip of Shakespeare casting men as women. And once again the CC cabal proves that evincing bedlam and tumult is not gender-specific. 

How it's all put together :  How to parse Michael Corleone, the Baby Don who first reluctantly, then eagerly, grabs for the mantle being shriven by an aging Vito Corleone. How and why do we go so far as to start to admire a guy fashioned for all the world after a murderous mobster? Think real-life charmer John Gotti here. Folks love Puzo's crew for the same reason NYC's Little Italy loved Gotti : he beat the system with the tribal nation that was his indigenous clan. His anti-establishment dynasty was bloody good at shock and awe no less so than TPTB (the powers that be). And of course everyone roots for underdogs, always have.

Director Mindy Parfitt could have pilfered a line from feminist author bell hooks to describe what she manages to portray grippingly with her crew : "Anger is the best hiding place for anybody seeking to conceal pain or anguish of spirit..." Michael, recall, lost fiancee Apollonia to a car bomb while he was exiled in Sicily. It was then he came home. First quietly then tumultuously -- during his goddaughter's christening -- he stormed his late Papa's throne through revenge assassinations.

Finding a way for her women actors to doff any lingering characteristics of feminine social customs. Instead don the patriarchal costumes bell hooks alludes to. This was Parfitt's challenge. How to create visceral, seething mob gangsters from her feminine actors. An unfettered and gusty Bravo! for everyone's gutsy efforts here. A better rainy Saturday's entertainment I could not have wished for.

Production values the show brings to the stage :  Playwright David Mann throws down the gauntlet that Classic Chic promptly swoops up and brandishes proudly. "The show rides the line between parody and homage, to both The Godfather and Shakespeare, and creates a new audience experience for both sources. By casting all women...we're invited to see power (and its potential corruption) as something both men and women can wield with equal strength."

The cozy Pacific Theatre stage with its opposite-facing bleacher seats looking down upon the central stage was perfect. Aisles used as chase avenues added to the fun. Spare simple props (Heidi Wilkinson, set designer) were moved on and off by the dozen actors, all choreographed smartly by Andrea Loewen.

Acting pin-spots : Knowing the Coppola script so well as most do, it is difficult to shed our personal favourites, like James Caan as the tumescent and explosive heir apparent eldest son Santino. Fuggeddaboutdit!  CC co-founder Corina Akeson brings to Sonny's role a power of voice and violent choreography that are breathtaking, lit.& fig. A seething, frightful turn that thrilled. As Sonny's alter ego, Corleone lawyer and consiglieri Tom Hayden, Michelle Martin (another CC co-founder) dished out a steady calculating cool that was smooth and edgy at the same time. Elizabeth Kirkland was both the goofy middle son Fredo and the evil cop McCluskey : she played them each with utterly engaging spunk and fun. 

As Papa Vito, Nicola Lipman was an understated and delightful wizen'd old man. Good on her part. But I did find Stefania Indelicato a bit too understated and deadpan playing Papa's favourite kid Prince Michael. Needed a bit more snarl behind lines such as "Pray! but query not / About my business, Kay!" Speaking of whom, the only girly-girl in the show, Kaitlin Williams as Michael's wife demonstrates perfectly in her role what is meant by the current sardonic hashtag out of Washington, DC : #freemelania. Now is then, then is now.

Who gonna like :  Lines like Michael's closer "When wolves do howl tonight / All family scores will be settled right!" give the flavour of this whimsical David Mann script. As noted at the start, altogether it is a twisted mash-up of Puzo meets Coppola meets Billy Bard. Gunshots are replaced by poisoned pearls and sword slices, while Sonny's demise was a straight send-up of Julius Caesar. Soliloquies replace camera close-ups of arched eyebrows, particularly not to forget Luca Brasi's inimitable wedding day tribute to Boss Vito "Long live your flesh / And may it contain your organs!" 

Based on what playwright Mann set out to accomplish and the challenges he put before Classic Chic to bring his script to life -- in its international debut, and an all-women cast as well -- this is one of the current season's absolute Must see! productions. BLR was supposed to have reviewed Corleone 10 days back but got scuttled by a snowstorm. I only wish my enthusiasm could have had more air-time before the show's closing just a week from now. I'd go again in a New York minute. 

Particulars :  Written by David Mann fashioned directly after The Godfather, novel by Mario Puzo, film by Francis Ford Coppola. Produced by the Classic Chic theatre troupe in association with Pacific Theatre. Performed at Pacific Theatre (corner Hemlock and 12th Avenue).  Through February 25th.  Run-time 80 minutes plus intermission. Tickets by phone 604.731.5518 or on-line via Troupe website  Hashtag #classiccorleone.

Production crew :  Director Mindy Parfitt.  Sound Designer Corina Akeson.  Set Designer Heidi Wilkinbson.  Lighting Designer Jill White.  Scenic Painter Omanie Elias.  Costume Designer Chantal Short.  Costume Assistant Sherry Randall.  Fight Director Josh Reynolds.  Fight Captain Paige Louter.  Choreographer Andrea Loewen.  Stage Manager Maria Zarrillo.

Performers :  Corina Akeson (Sonny; Johnny Fontaine).  Christina Wells Campbell (Luca Brasi; Clemenza).  Evelyn Chew (Connie; Apollonia).  Lindsay Curl; Danielle Klaudt; Paige Louter (Chorus).  Stefania Indelicato (Michael Corleone).  Elizabeth Kirkland (Fredo; McCluskey).  Nicola Lipman (Vito Corleone; Priest).  Michelle Martin (Tom, Carlo).  Colleen Winton (Bonasera; Moe Green).  Kaitlin Williams (Kay).


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