Almost 20 years since it premiered in L.A. at Theatre West and was discovered by Robert De Niro, Chazz Palminteri’s Broadway hit, solo memoir has all the ingredients of an enduring saga — violence and sentimentality, fathers and sons, rites of passage and tests of loyalty. The setting is the Paliminteri’s apartment stoop at the corner of Belont and 187th Street in the Bronx, where, as a 9-year-old in 1960, Palminteri, sitting by himself on the front steps (lovely set by James Noone) witnessed a gang shooting. The gang, in this instance, was the Italian mob, but one has the sense from Palminteri’s story that the general shapes of gang warfare and drive-by shootings are as universal as the tests of loyalty they induce. Palminteri describes being dragged to the local police station to identify the shooter — one self-appointed neighborhood protector named Sonny, whom the locals respected and feared. The scene has Palminteri playing himself, with his hand thrust into his father’s sweaty palm, as the parent prays the kid will keep his mouth shut — which he does. “I did a good thing, huh dad?” the boy asks, to which the father replies, “You did a good thing for a bad man,” hoping that the matter — and the dubious morality attached to it — will simply dissipate. But Sonny’s gratitude slowly emerges, and young Chazz finds himself with a second father, engaged in an ethics clash with his first. The former is loved, the latter, feared; the former works like a horse and can barely pay his rent; the latter has grown stinking rich by scaring others into doing his works — he delegates and makes decisions; Sonny dismisses the Paliminteri family’s love of pro baseball — “When your dad can’t make the rent, tell him to go to Mickey Mantle, and see what he says” — because in this world, “nobody cares.” With that philosophy, Sonny encourages the boy to go to college and work his way up in the world. Meanwhile, through the child’s Faustian friendship with the gangster, the boy finds himself at the center of attention and a superstar in gambling dens and gangster conventions, a kind of attention that intoxicates him. Jerry Zaks directs a tender production, supported by John Gromada’s subtly nostalgic sound design, while Palminteri’s skills at capturing and flipping to and fro among dozens of local denizens, including the leading players, provide much of the sharp edge to his story’s sweet center.
Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 & 7:30 p.m. Starts: Sept. 10. Continues through Sept. 21, 2008
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