Freakshow Creepshow: ‘Coney Island Criminals’ tells the story of the original Boardwalk empire

Rogues gallery: People’s Playground legends come back to life in Dick Zigun’s new play, “Coney Island Criminals.”
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

Celebrate this Halloween with the ghosts of old Coney Island.

All through October, a new play will resurrect the original Boardwalk Empire — the mobster-dominated pre-Prohibition People’s Playground, where three New York legends cut their teeth and, in one case, cut much more than that.

“Coney Island Criminals” — a one-act play written by the self-declared mayor of Sodom by the Sea, Dick Zigun — tells the true tale of how Al Capone got his famous facial scars, back when the future Public Enemy Number One was just a teenager working at a waterside watering hole, where vaudeville legend Jimmy Durante played piano and silent film star Clara Bow waited tables.

“I just thought, ‘what wonderful characters, especially to have such a significant event in Al Capone’s life happen in Coney Island,’ ” said Zigun. “It’s full of violence and Coney Island entertainment and sex, and it’s the kind of zany weird entertainment I like to do.”

The Harvard Inn once sat near the Boardwalk on the old Thunderbolt rollercoaster lot between W. 15th and W. 16th streets, and it belonged to famed Brooklyn gangster Frankie Yale. Zigun’s production transforms the back room of his new Surf Avenue Arts Annex into the seedy speakeasy, where viewers sit and drink at tables among wannabe wiseguys and dangerous dames. And, like any good mob story, Zigun’s play is full of squirting blood and flying spaghetti — some of which gets on the audience. “It’s a fully immersive, fully interactive experience,” the freaky bard said.

The Harvard was where Capone worked as a bartender and bouncer, and where he killed a man for the first time. It’s also where made the mistake of complimenting the posterior of a lovely patron named Lena Galluccio — not realizing her thuggish, knife-wielding brother Frank was within earshot. Galluccio carved up Capone’s face so badly it needed 30 stitches to hold it in one piece. The result gave the gangster his infamous nickname — Scarface.

Ultimately, the play is a tale of initiation — into the world of entertainment for Durante and Bow, and into a new universe of violence and crime for Capone.

“This is a story about teenagers, who get their first taste of life in Coney Island,” said Zigun.

“Coney Island Criminals” at the Coney Island USA Shooting Gallery and Arts Annex (1214 Surf Avenue, between Stillwell Avenue and W. 12th Street in Coney Island.) Oct 18, 19, 25, 26, 7 pm and 9 pm. Oct. 20 and 27, 8 pm. Oct 28–30, 8 pm. Oct. 31, 7 pm, 9 pm, and 11 pm. $15. For tickets, go to shop.coneyisland.com

Reach reporter Will Bredderman at wbredderman@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4507. Follow him at twitter.com/WillBredderman.

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