Back Stage West – Critic’s Pick
July 12, 2002
by Polly Warfield
The 68 Cent Crew and its million dollars worth of talent lit up the sky like roman candles with its Fourth of July weekend opening of this play written and produced by Ronnie Marmo, with Marmo in its autobiographical leading role of Sebastiano–Sebi for short. Marmo reveals in program notes that he started his theatrical career–thus this theatre company he heads as its creative director–with a grand total of 68 cents in reserve. He also had what it takes, plus a cadre of like-minded, equally talented, and gutsy friends now known as the 68 Cent Crew. Most of their names end with a vowel. You don’t have to be Italian to be a member, but thank heaven for the brio and bounce if you are.
West of Brooklyn is the saga of Sebastiano, told in a quick succession of short cinematic scenes–20 in the first act. 8 in the second–ranging from Italy to Brooklyn to various Hollywood locales. It doesn’t sprawl and it doesn’t sag. A uniformly talented ensemble of 18 actors with wide-ranging stage, film and TV credits crowds the small stage, sometimes all at once. (Marmo’s play evokes Landord Wilson’s Balm in Gilead in this respect). Director/actor/set designer/lighting designer Danny Cistone achieves mini-miracles of stagecraft with some rather sensational set changes and awesome feats of rhythmic racing: besides which, he turns in a snazzy performance as a jaunty minor league Frank Sinatra knowns as Frankie Cuckles, who subs for Sebi with a “Fly Me to the Moon” serenade to Sebi’s sweetheart. Pop music classics embellish and enhance the action throughout.
Everything happens here: love at first sight, death by gunshot, anguish of self-recrimination, epiphany of revelation, a pregnant sweet surprise. The play is also an implicit triubute to Sebi’s–actuallly Marmo’s–deceased mother, whose pictured likeness beams its blessing from the wall of Papo’s pizzeria and is echoed in the fine-hewn loveliness of Matty, the quality girl who drops in for a slice of Papo’s pizza and becomes Sebi’s love at first sight. Dana Daurey plays her with shimmering layers of responsiveness that complement Marmo’s sensitivity and intensity.
Robert Costanzo has warm paternal presence as the protective Papo. Angela Pupello is vivid, big-hearted, tough-talking, gum-chewing Donna Dooze, girlfriend of Sebi’s kid brother Jimmy Boy (Jerry Ferrara). Pretty girls in pretty costumes, some without so much as a line of dialogue, include Bambi Liu, Charlene Amoia, Rachel Balzer, and Kiersten Morgan. Terry Scannell is variously and very much noticed as Flamboyant Guy, Plano Man, and White Trash.
West of Brooklyn affirms life’s goodness, embraces what’s good in humanity, and honors bonds of family and friendship, and there’s nothing like this kind of a show to rekindle enthusiasm for life in general and theatre in particular. So we say, “Grazie, 68 Cent Crew.”