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Call me Al: New play reveals the Coney Island origin of ‘Scarface’ - Brooklyn Paper

Call me Al: New play reveals the Coney Island origin of ‘Scarface’

Open season: The six-person cast of “The Education of Al Capone as if Told by Jimmy Durante” will begin $10 preview performances on Nov. 2, with an official opening set for Nov. 9.
Photo by Trey Pentecost

It’s a scar-y story!

The true tale of how notorious Brooklyn-born gangster Al Capone got the scars on his face will be revealed during the Mayor of Coney Island’s newest play, “The Education of Al Capone, as if told by Jimmy Durante,” which starts performances this weekend in Coney Island. Hollywood films about the bootlegger known as “Scarface” have never gotten the story right, said the playwright.

“It’s the closest approximation of how Al Capone got his scars,” said Dick Zigun. “It’s a hard story to tell — they either don’t deal with the scar or lie about it, totally made up — have him in a fight with cops, and that’s not the true story at all.”

The immersive play is set at the Harvard Inn, a Coney Island dive bar where Capone worked as a teen, learned to fire a gun, and got his scars, according to Zigun.

“Al Capone at 18 got his first serious job working as a bartender, bouncer at Harvard Inn. Al learned to shoot a gun there, first killed someone there at 18, got into a knife fight, and got three major scars on his cheek and was taken to Coney Island Hospital,” he said. “That’s all true.”

The play is narrated by famous vaudeville star and pianist Jimmy Durante, known for his giant schnoz. Zigun is not certain whether Durante ever worked at the Harvard Inn, but says that the vaudevillian was known to perform at the People’s Playground, and that he was in the neighborhood the night Capone got his scars.

“I don’t know for a fact that Jimmy Durante worked there, but he was playing ragtime piano in Coney Island in 1918,” said Zigun. “Jimmy Durante is telling the story, he was there that night — he will take you through the story, including the knife fight.”

Zigun’s play is likely the most accurate story of what happened the night Capone got his nickname, but he still took a few liberties with the tale, he said.

“For the most part it’s accurate, I just take it places where I want it to go,” said Zigun.

For instance, he added “It Girl” Clara Bow to the story. Zigun says that the future silent film star actually worked at Nathan’s, but he decided to move her to the Harvard Inn.

“She started out as a waitress at Nathan’s, and it’s a fact that Nathan and Jimmy were friends,” he said. “It’s my imagination that Clara worked at Harvard Inn.”

Visitors to the show will stream into a remake of the Inn, and will be seated by waiters for a not-so-lavish meal, according to Zigun.

“The audience will arrive in a dive bar and be seated as soon as they walk in. The only thing on the menu is the $5 special, which gets you lousy pasta and warm beer,” he said. “Coney Island USA has a restaurant and beer and wine license. We will properly cook the pasta.”

Guests should dress up for the evening — but should not don their best ballgowns, in case the immersive piece gets a little messy, said Zigun.

“The audience needs to expect actors will have a fight in the middle of the audience, a couple of audience members will be murdered over the course of the show,” said Zigun. “And if a little bit of a food fight breaks out, it’s not anything that’s going to stain your clothing — but don’t wear your best clothing.”

“The Education of Al Capone, as if told by Jimmy Durante” at Coney Island USA (1208 Surf Ave. at W. 12th Street in Coney Island, www.coneyisland.com). Nov. 9, 11, 16–18, 23–25; Fri at 8 pm, Sat at 4 pm and 8 pm, Sun at 4 pm. $20 ($10 preview shows on Nov. 2–4).

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.
They’ve got it: Playwright Dick Zigun took a few historical liberties to place actress Clara Bow (Natalie Merchant) and vaudevillian Jimmy Durante (Rob Romeo) at the Italian restaurant where Al Capone worked as a waiter.
Photo by Trey Pentecost

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