…The Crew Moves Up

Back Stage West
July 17th 2003
by Polly Warfield

Sometimes all it takes is 68 cents and a sense of mission. Ronnie Marmo had 68 cents, a sense of mission, and more: warmth and charisma that binds others to him and creates an ensemble of real camaraderie. Marmo is founder, driving force, and inexhaustible source of energy propelling the 68 Cent Crew, his dauntless company of newcomers scratching out a precarious foothold on lower slopes of Hollywood’s high-altitude peaks. It’s apparent that his tight-knit little group contains plenty of talent and Brooklyn-bred Italian brio. Any given Crew program bristles – more appropriately sings – with Italianate names. Said Marmo,”We have 35 members, soon going up to 40. About 17 names are Italian.” Seems like more.

Not that any given 68 Cent Crew production is everyone’s sip of cappuccino. What is? You can find fault if that’s what you’re looking for. The company’s latest foray into unbridled farce, Love, Sex, and the I.R.S., was so unbridled I experienced initial misgivings. My culturally aware ex-Manhattanite concert-violinist-caliber theatre companion, a visitor from San Miguel de Allende, found it hilarious. Anyway, initial misgivings are nothing new. My introduction to the Crew aroused initial misgivings at what first looked unpromising. The Space Theater on Heliotrope Avenue makes Sacred Fools Theater across the street looks like Broadway’s bright lights. The Space is a tiny unmarked storefront; it’s “Mr. Cellophane” from the musical Chicago: “They pass right by me/look right through me/and never know I’m there.” Inside, diligent Crew-ites have it fixed up better than we have a right to expect from 68 Cents in a 36-seat Space, and never discount the warmth of Crew hospitality. Onstage – with a real red velvet curtain – was What the Rabbi Saw, by Billy Van Zandt & Jane Milmore, and, yes, it was a wild and crazy farce to make what Joe Orton’s Butler saw seem like mild indiscretion – or Tony ‘N’ Tina’s Wedding a dignified ceremony. Does it surprise you that Van Zandt & Milmore wrote Love, Sex, and the I.R.S.? It out farced the Rabbi. Brawny Terry Scannell wouldn’t fool anyone, let alone the I.R.S., with his outrageous female disguise. Edward Stein (alternating with Davis Campbell) was his relatively sane roommate; Nicole Arlyn, Rosalind Gatto, and Rebecca Calhoun were their nubile and willing amatory interests. Marmo downed it up as a loose-cannon neighbor. Tommy Colavito actually aroused sympathy for the I.R.S. as a preyed-upon agent.

Dynamo Marmo will be seen in several independent films this year. Fish Without A Bicycle, Irish Eyes, Chew and Screw and Pop Kowboy, Some of Marmo’s recent credits also include: MGM’s Deuces Wild (leading role), and Crocodile Dundee in L.A. (supporting role), plus guest-starring on TV’s JAG. What money he makes goes into his theatre. He was excited about having just signed the lease on “a huge, beautiful, empty space” on Sunset at Western. “We start moving in on September 1,” Marmo related, adding that he and co-producer/set designer/director/actor/musician/Crew indispensable Danny Cistone plans to spend a couple of nights sleeping on their potential theatre’s bare floor in hope of inspiration this might bring. They’d like to open there in late September. Toward that end they’ve scheduled fundraisers. A party with live bands, comedians, general fun is set August 1st at the Knitting Factory, 7021 Hollywood Blvd., $25 at the door, (323)- 463- 0264, ext.123 or www.68centcrew.com. Another 68 Cent Crew benefit will highlight the upcoming General Hospital weekend celebration at Sportsman’s Lodge in Studio City, Aug.24. Crew member/GH soap star Tyler Christopher will be joined by other Hospital actors, including Rick Hearst and Greg Vaughan.

Versatile Crew technical director – “the amazing Danny Cistone” in a press release for the July 24th opening of Music, Cocaine, and Philosophy at the Greenway Court Theatre – directs the “multimedia performance art piece” written by/starring artist Weston Woolley. Cistone’s Broadway credits include Grease!, She Loves Me, and Gypsy; his recent film credits Austin Powers 3: Goldmember, Deuces Wild, Baby Luv, and Chew and Screw. He performs with rock band Carbon 9 and is slated to design the L.A. premiere of A Few Good Men. Lest it be thought 68 Cent Crew limits its repertoire to crazy farce, we must add that one of its biggest hits was the Knights of Mary Phagan, a searing study of the Ku Klux Klan’s 1913 lynching of Jewish Leo Frank, wrongly accused and convicted of rape and murder. It earned 9 NAACP Award nominations. Crew stagings include Bill W. and Dr.Bob, a testimonial to the lifesaving founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, and Marmo’s well-received autobiographical West of Brooklyn, which may be due for a repeat.

Response to a Crew recruiting notice in Back Stage West resulted in 800 applications. “We took eight,” said Marmo. Excited about prospects of “having a theatre of our own,” Marmo is even more excited that now he has full custody of his 11- year-old daughter, Brittany. After arriving from New York she lost no time making herself essential to her father and his theatre. ‘Last weekend she visited my father in Palm Springs,” Marmo said, “and everything fell apart at the theatre.” Brittany does hostess duties, makes introductory announcements from the stage, and runs things. An academic whiz who gets straight A’s, she is preparing for entry into a performing arts middle school. “I’m having her grow up in the theatre to save her from so much teenage craziness,” said her father. “I pack her lunches for school. I’ve joined the PTA. I’m 32. People think I’m her older brother. She’s saved my life.”

The joy and talent onstage, the company’s obvious rapport, and its Italian spirit were what drew me to the 68 Cent Crew. They don’t have much mainstream attention, but they don’t worry about it. “We do theatre because we love theatre, and I think our productions show it,” said Marmo.