Review: Arlene Violet's The Family

Wiseguys (and dolls)
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  June 10, 2011

ALL TOGETHER NOW Gleadow (center) and his Family.

If anybody not under potential indictment is qualified to write something titled The Family, subtitled "A Musical About the Mob," it's Arlene Violet. She made her bones, metaphorically speaking, as Rhode Island's attorney general in the 1980s, when she had to deal with more bent noses then a boxing ring doctor.

In an independent production, the musical is running through July 1 in the upstairs theater at Trinity Repertory Company.

Music and lyrics are by Enrico Garzilli, whose five musicals include Michelangelo, which was performed in 2007 at the Providence Performing Arts Center. Directing the cast of 16 is Peter Sampieri.

Before an actor sets foot on the stage here, we certainly know where we are from a black-and-white panorama that slants across the background. Scenic designer Peter Lynch gives us the Scialo Bros. Bakery sign and a Federal Hill triple-decker, the Independent Man statue atop the statehouse and the pine cone arch at the entrance to Providence's Little Italy. The story takes place in the 1970s, but the familiar images seem timeless.

At center is the fictional Don Marco (Tom Gleadow), who heads the local loansharking, extortion, and other rackets, taking a taste of major robberies and petty thefts and the like. We already know some information about the period, such Mafia bosses refusing to get into dealing drugs, for the sake of their neighborhoods, but some details aren't common knowledge, as Violet shares some amusing insider info. One cute touch has a mobster surrounding himself with bodyguards dressed identical to him so that when he needs to go to a meeting everyone could pull down their hats and mingle, making it unlikely that the feds could follow him. We hear of another major crime boss "taking care" of JFK after "taking our money and siccing his brother on us." Don Marco's comment on that, with delicious irony, is: "One thing I hate is a guy with no internal values."

Family values come into play for him, in both regards. Not only is his mob family threatened, but his personal one is falling apart. In the nationwide "Commission" of regional bosses that collectively are the Mafia, off-stage Don Marcello of Chicago wants Don Marco removed as top Providence capo because he plans for his son, Renaldo (Colin Earyes), to succeed him as boss. Renaldo studied music at Juilliard and wants to be a singer, however. To Don Marco, "opera is for sissy boys," an observation complicated by the fact that his son is gay, despite having a former girlfriend, Gina (Amanda Ruggierio).

"Education is a bad thing," the Don says at one point. "It makes people think they got choices."

But that conflict isn't handled plausibly in The Family, since Renaldo isn't stringing his father along with a maybe, but instead at every point makes clear that he will pursue his own life. What's Don Marco intend to do, hold a gun to his head? And you don't get to be a Don by being the smallest caliber in the magazine; an acting capo has already been killed after being found in a gay bar, so Don Marco isn't likely to not figure out about his son what everybody else thinks is obvious. The play is weakened somewhat by such illogic and confusing plot points, especially toward the end when characters are embroiled in various subterfuges.

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