For anybody still suffering from “Sopranos” withdrawal after all these years, Kenny D’Aquila’s “Unorganized Crime” at the Elephant Theatre is a good place to turn to for a quick mob-family-melodrama fix.
The quirky, colorfully written tragicomedy exploits the same dynamics — the soapy interpersonal problems of cold-blooded killers — that made the HBO series such a guilty thrill. And this world premiere, directed by David Fofi, is also charged by the star power of Chazz Palminteri (“A Bronx Tale”) and Elizabeth Rodriguez (“The Mother… With the Hat”).
Playwright D’Aquila plays Gino Sicuso, the black sheep of a New York crime family. Having failed to pull the trigger during a hit three years ago, Gino was banished to Michigan, where he lives in a dive (a wonderfully detailed and depressing set by Joel Daavid) and works as a waiter. At home, he practices a unique form of role-play therapy conceived by his ambitious wife, Rosie (Rodriguez), to channel his annoyance at entitled customers into the lethal rage he lacks.
Gino has reached the point of “murdering” cloth dummies, but his progress is interrupted by an unexpected visit from his older brother, Sal (Palminteri). Even a competent gangster might develop an inferiority complex around Sal, who effortlessly conveys a toe-curling menace, even — or especially — when chortling amiably at his own jokes.
Sal also assumes a disturbingly proprietary attitude toward Gino’s beloved Rosie, a tough-talking former prostitute who still turns tricks when necessary — she has a standing arrangement with their vile landlord, Haakim (Jack Topalian) — and yearns for the lost paradise of mob life.
It turns out Sal’s visit isn’t just brotherly: He has come to test Gino’s commitment to the family business. The skillful performers make the ensuing rapid-fire plot machinations credible, but only barely: D’Aquila is a writer of such economy that he fits the makings of an entire cable TV season into an hour and change, and the developments feel hurried.
The tone is also a little wobbly. Although most of the action is played realistically, two sex scenes are conducted in silhouette behind a screen, a jarringly stagy choice that dissipates all tension.
The ending, though bold, is disappointing: There’s the sense that D’Aquila wasn’t quite sure what to do with his entertaining characters once he’d gotten them all onstage. His writing and performance make Gino, especially, a sympathetic and interesting antihero who may deserve a better story than he gets.
“Unorganized Crime.” Elephant Theatre, 1076 N. Lillian Way, Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends May 31. $34.99. 1 (800) 595-4849 or www.unorganizedcrimetheplay.com. Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times