Fredo Corleone wasn't as dumb as The Godmudda--A Mafia Fairy Tale, which tries to blend the Cinderella story with a mess of underworld stereotypes. The title character (played by Dona Safran) is the mob boss mama ruling a crew of nincompoop capos. Described by one of her underlings as "sweet and nice, full o' hugs and junk like dat," she's actually a nasty piece of work who knocks off rival boss Vincent Candelloni (Fred O'Brien), leaving his daughter, Citronella (Alicia Spinozzi), to sweep up after a harpy stepmonster (Francine Simpson) and two sniveling stepsisters, Suzie (Katy Burton) and Fran (Holly Maroff).
There's a Guido-esque New Jersey prince named Bobby Tenor (George Torres) and a big party for everyone to go to, where Citronella and Bobby lock oculars and fall in love amid gunfire, a lot of earsplitting shrieking and lines like, "Citronella, if we get out of this alive, I'll kill you.''
Instead of a glass slipper, Citronella loses her entire dress at midnight--she's as shapely as a double-stuffed calzone--sending Bobby on a mission to find his dream goil. Standard spoof-osity, built on familiar material. Too bad it goes bippity-boppity-splat. The acting in Godmudda is so criminally bad, the entire cast should be prosecuted under the RICOH statute.
The productions at Pocket Sandwich don't aspire to anything but low art. This venue specializes in silly, mindless melodramas, with the audience encouraged to boo and hiss villains and cheer heroes and heroines amid showers of free popcorn tossed at the stage. The jernt does good, steady business and has a loyal neighborhood following. Perhaps this explains some degree of complacency on the part of the folks who stage the shows here. Why strive for better-crafted scripts or cast more talented actors when the beer-guzzling, corn-flinging yahoos who pay to get in don't seem to care?
But maybe they do. The fun of seeing plays at the Pocket comes from interaction between the audience and the broadly drawn melodrama characters. In most productions, the actors frequently break the fourth wall and ad-lib. During Godmudda, the crowd was eager to laugh and play along, but audience participation was stymied by a script so confusing it was difficult to follow even the linguine-thin plot. The actors, struggling with goofy Joisey dialects, were often unintelligible, and they lacked the comedic skills and confidence necessary to ad-lib successfully. This left the audience wondering what the heck was going on much of the time and who they were supposed to root for or throw popcorn at.
Toward the end of the two-hour show (counting two long intermissions), much of the booing and hissing was aimed at actress Alicia Spinozzi, whose portrayal of Citronella seems to have been influenced by the Anna Nicole Smith school of elocution. Poor thing. Spinozzi has the comic timing of a wet cannoli and the speaking voice of a rubber cat toy. "What should we do with Citronella?" one of the mobsters asks at the end of the play. "Shoot her!" shouted a voice from the audience.
Playwright Jon-Paul McGowan overlooked some real laugh-getting possibilities with Godmudda. After four seasons of The Sopranos, plus the Analyze This and That movies, we're hip to the lingo of "our thing." When one of the "dons" in Godmudda asks, "Do I amuse you?" it earns a laugh. GoodFellas. Joe Pesci. We get it. McGowan did supply his Mafiosi with funny names: Don Knottsio, Don Perignon, Don Johnson. But that's the funniest thing he gives them. The cutest characters in the play are a couple of rat puppets that pop up out of the sink to help Citronella. A clever, cartoony idea, not used nearly enough.
Director Dennis Millegan, hampered by an ensemble of actors who should hold onto their day jobs, hasn't taught them not to upstage each other or speak with their backs to the house.
Last year more than 40 active theater companies trod the boards on stages hereabouts. This year begins with the debut of a new one, the not-for-profit GoodDoctor Productions, opening with The Complete History of America (Abridged) January 16 on the main stage at the Bath House Cultural Center, where the show will run through February 1.
The 1999 play by Adam Long, Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor uses just three actors--Preston Murchison, Chris Klongpayabal and Ben Rosario--to re-create the history of the United States through song, dance and prose. Described as "intellectual vaudeville," the script is updated constantly to stay on top of current events. Call 214-458-9187 for tickets or more info.
Then next month look for the return of a promising little theater ensemble, Martice Enterprises, offering the Southwest premiere of Rick Najera's comedy, Buford Gomez: Tales of a Right-Wing Border Patrol Officer, opening February 13 for a 10-performance run in the basement space of The Majestic Theatre. Najera also was the author of Latinologues, the collection of comedy sketches about Latino stereotypes that launched Martice as a theater group worth noticing last year. Buford Gomez stars Anthony Ramirez, Lada Vishtak, Dolores Godinez and Marco Rodriguez and will be directed by Rene Moreno. Call 214-243-2348.
Another new company, Contemporary Theatre of Dallas, opens February 14 in its permanent home on Sears Street just off Lower Greenville. Actress and budding impresario Sue Loncar formed the company and quietly launched it a few months back with a small, well-received showcase of Love Letters at Addison's Stone Cottage. Since then, Loncar's spent bushels of moolah and hundreds of hours overseeing the renovation of her two-story theater space. The cast of the first major production, Alfred Uhry's World War II-era play The Last Night of Ballyhoo, includes Loncar and two of Dallas' best character actors, Ted Wold and Cindee Mayfield. Call 214-828-0094.