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L.A. Theater Review: ‘Unorganized Crime’ Starring Chazz Palminteri

You can't take your eyes of Palminteri, who plays a supporting role in this so-so but generally enjoyable comedy-drama in a Tarantino vein.

Chazz Palminteri, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Kenny D’Aquila, Carmen Argenziano, Jack Topalian.

Stars are called stars because they shine brighter than anyone else. Every time Chazz Palminteri sashays into “Unorganized Crime” as Gotham mob scion Sal Sicuso, cool and sardonic, seething with banked menace, you can’t take your eyes off him. It’s a supporting role, but he’s more than enough reason to travel to Hollywood’s Lillian Theater for Kenny D’Aquila’s messy, indifferently wrought but generally enjoyable comedy-drama in a Tarantino vein.

D’Aquila himself plays the protagonist, Sal’s brother Gino, who tried to enter the family business years ago but couldn’t cut it. After seriously bobbling a contract he was exiled for life, on a monthly pittance, to this Detroit suburb (seen here in a nicely detailed, impressively crummy living room set from designer Joel Daavid).

Subsisting on a diet of nose candy and broken dreams, Gino humiliatingly waits table while wife Rosie (Elizabeth Rodriguez of Broadway’s “The Motherfucker with the Hat”) turns tricks. Suddenly big brother pops in to tender an unexpected second chance. There’s a caper afoot, and redemption and made-man status in the offing, if Gino has finally grown the balls to assume his birthright.

That’s a lot of plot shoved into a mere 75 minutes, not even counting a fateful visit by horny, overreaching landlord Haakim (Jack Topalian). Helmer David Fofi keeps things moving peppily, starting with Gino’s at-home therapy, in which the long-suffering waiter works out his aggressions on two well-dressed mannequins at the dining table. (“How’s about you stick that fork up your ass and then I’ll see about gettin’ you a manager?”)

In the minus column, D’Aquila’s exposition is consistently clunky, and Rosie’s character in particular is inconsistently written. Rodriguez retains the sizzle she showed in “Motherfucker with the Hat,” but she struggles with the need to be Lady Macbeth one minute and a doormat the next, without logical transition.

The biggest weakness, at the moment, is the author’s one-dimensional essaying of his own main character. We’re supposed to see Gino wrestling with his conscience to fire himself up and become a true Sicuso. But with D’Aquila alternating between blustery and blubbery modes, the ambiguity needed for suspense is absent. There’s little doubt as to the state of Gino’s cojones when it’s time to pull the trigger.

It’s as if Mario Puzo rewrote “The Godfather” to put sad, ineffectual Fredo Corleone at the center, while relegating volcanic Sonny and calculating Michael to the sidelines. And since Palminteri’s charisma easily embodies both of those powerful gentlemen — with Rodriguez ready to bring in fiery Connie Corleone should the occasion demand — the balance can’t help but seem off.

So “Unorganized Crime” may not make us an offer we can’t refuse. But accepting that offer does lead to a good deal of pleasure.

L.A. Theater Review: 'Unorganized Crime' Starring Chazz Palminteri

Elephant Theater, Hollywood; 84 seats; $35 top. Opened, reviewed May 8, 2014. Runs through May 31. Running time: ONE HOUR, 15 MINS.

Production: An Unorganized Crime, LLC production of a play in one act by Kenny D’Aquila.

Creative: Directed by David Fofi. Sets and lighting, Joel Daavid; costumes, Michael Mullen; sound design and composer, Peter Bayne; fight choreographer, Edgar Landa; stage managers, Meghan Cox, Aaron Lyons.

Cast: Chazz Palminteri, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Kenny D’Aquila, Carmen Argenziano, Jack Topalian.

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