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By Robert Bethune
A one-man play, like Chazz Palminteri's A Bronx Tale, more than any other kind of play, has to be the story of something that happens. What happens has to happen here and now, right in front of us. Also, all great plays, one way or another, are about love, death, or both. Palminteri's play is the story of how a boy learns to know love and death, and it happens here and now, right in front of us, because he relives it here and now, right in front of us. That's the way a one-man play can work as drama. It's really the only way.
The one really essential thing he works with is a chair. There's a setting, well-designed by James Noone with fine lighting choices by Paul Gallo, but the true set is that simple black cafe chair. That's what becomes the kitchen table, two or three different cars, a school desk, and so forth. I'd love to see Palminteri do the show in a plain bare room with nothing but that chair.
Palminteri is highly effective at characterization without being a great mimic. He simply uses his voice and body, the resources that are naturally part of him, to show us everything he has in mind - all the people, the places, what happens. He constantly gives a double being - himself, and also the boy, the father, the gangster, the wise-guys. It's a beautiful thing to watch - skill within given limitations.
The story is about the Italian-American mob as known on the streets and neighborhoods of the old Bronx. We have a long-running love affair with Italian-American mobster culture, focused here on the figure of the capo di tutti capi, who is almost the American Robin Hood. After The Godfather and The Sopranos and all the rest, it's a bit old. But old things well done are a pleasure, as it is in this production.
The show also has a great cell-phone warning: "Taking photographs, using recorders, or allowing your cell phone to ring are not allowed. Anybody who does any of these things will be beaten on the head with a baseball bat."
Fisher Theatre, 3011 W.Grand Blvd, Detroit. Tuesday-Sunday through Dec. 14. Tickets: $28.50-$71. For information: 313-872-1000 or www.broadwayindetroit.com.
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