After spending recent years immersed in playfully lyrical dance-theater explorations of key texts by Anton Chekhov and Tennessee Williams, Theatre Movement Bazaar director-choreographer Tina Kronis and writer Richard Alger turn their formidable talents to The Godfather. The bestselling novel and blockbuster gangster-movie franchise elevated the fictional Corleone crime family into an essential part of an American mythology of immigrant aspiration.
Billed as a “vaudevillian dance theater collage,” Big Shot: a.k.a. this is not The Godfather settles in for a run at Bootleg Theater after premiering in May at the Pacific Playwrights Festival at South Coast Repertory.
The show plays as an uneasy mix of broad, slapstick parody, pointed musical satire and feminist-inflected lambasting of a Hollywood culture industry that peddles a violently misogynistic vision of family as entertainment.
The piece reserves its most scathingly unflattering treatment for Godfather novelist and co-screenwriter Mario Puzo, the New York–born, Italian-American author. Puzo gets caricatured by Caitlyn Conlin as a kind of meatball-mouthed, cartoon-accented wise guy as he gives testimony at a Kefauver Committee–like hearing on the mercenary background to his 1969 crime potboiler and subsequent screen adaptations.
For most of the evening, however, Conlin portrays Michael Corleone’s WASPy love interest, Kay Adams — or rather, she plays Diane Keaton playing Kay Adams, according to the show’s twice-removed meta-theatrical conceit of being a stage show about a movie of a book.
Conlin joins a precision ensemble led by company star Mark Skeens, who plays Al Pacino and Michael Corleone, along with Mark Doerr (as Tom Hagan), David Guerra (Sonny Corleone), Jesse Myers (Fredo Corleone) and Paula Rebelo (as Connie Corleone), as they enact a series of physical-theater set pieces and musical numbers, each interpreting an iconic sequence from the saga.
Musical director-composer Wes Myers leaves no ethnic cliché unturned as he sets Kronis’ sleekly cool dance moves to a pastiche of Nino Rota, ersatz Neapolitan folk-pop, tangos, mambos and even an Ennio Morricone spaghetti Western homage (featuring the cast devouring heaping plates of pasta).
Though Big Shot’s satiric shots sometimes stray into broad and even borderline-offensive territory, the show always seems to redeem itself in the edgy, almost Brechtian rigor of Kronis’ surreally stylish physical poetry, which somehow manages to simultaneously critique its source material while recapitulating the original’s underlying emotional and visual impact.
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Theatre Movement Bazaar at Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., Westlake; through June 6. (213) 389-3856, bootlegtheater.org.
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