Friday, January 27, 2017

The Last Vig (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

An aging mafioso, not one of the big guys but on the other hand not small potatoes either, goes into work.  He's maybe the last of a his breed.  He cannot move too easily.  Needs a hearing aid.  Doesn't understand cellphones much less smart ones.  Plus his wife is sick so he has to keep in touch.  And on this day there's a problem, one getting worse as this old man has so many balls to keep in the air, so many obligations to answer, some many issues looming from every direction.

The Last Vig, starring Burt Young (probably best known as Rocky's brother in law, but with a much longer career than that one role) tells the tale of Big Joe.  His office is behind a Chinese restaurant in Manhattan, where his very young assistant (Ben Adams) runs errands for him.  The owner of the restaurant (Clint Jung) runs interference for him, as much as he can.

We learn as the play goes on of a very serious problem, one involving poker chips and a powerful Don in New Jersey.  Joe gets an old friend of his (Gareth Williams) to help out.  But Joe's wife (Lizzie Peet) is sick back at home with the gout, worried about their daughter and grandson. Joe tries to help out.  Then, a crooked cop (Bruce Nozick) noses his way into this brew.

Credit: Ed Krieger
It makes for a slow burn as far as drama goes, but an involving one.  Like many a drama focusing on professional criminals, The Last Vig involves our emotions, diffuses disturbing little details with humor and moments of humanity.  The actors do a uniformly fine job, with Young setting the tone.  He shows the audience an admirably vivid performance, yet remains low key.  From stillness the man conveys tension, no small feat.  The rest of the cast follow suit, not simply as followers but showing considerable personal talent and skills (I've seen Williams before, where he proved this).

And yet.

Credit: Ed Krieger
Felt more like a movie than a play.  I'm not saying the play doesn't work as a play.  Not at all!  The first act was a little low energy, but after intermission I was eager to see more so clearly that "low energy" did its job.

But I kept wanting something.  After eventually my mind, towards the very end, told me what was missing.  Camera angles.  It doesn't feel like a play where things naturally happen in a genuine real space.  A need for focus emerged.  Not a compelling need, nor anything that ruined any of the humor or defused a drop of the drama.  Rather, to push the emotional power of the story some direct focus called for.  To get the right effect for the theatrical production, I recommend sitting on stage right.

And I do recommend you see this.  The script is good.  The cast is very fine indeed.  Worth your while.  But I walked away thinking it would make an even better movie.

The Last Vig plays Saturdays and Mondays at 8pm and Sundays at 7pm through February 19, 2017 with two Friday shows February 10 & 17 at 8pm, at the Zephyr Theatre a 7456 Melrose Ave.Los AngelesCA 90046 (between Fairfax and La Brea).

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