This show is a straight shooter.
A sign by the entrance to the Coney Island USA stage reads: “Patrons are advised that this performance will include: cigar smoking, blank gunfire, profanity, anachronism, ethnic stereotypes, sexual situations, dramatic license, and ballistic pasta.” And brother, they ain’t kidding! You can dodge the flying noodles or throw them back, but there’s no escaping the action onstage.
So whether or not you will enjoy Dick Zigun’s new play “The Education of Al Capone, as if told by Jimmy Durante” is proportional to your willingness to join in as the actors exhort you to sing “The Whiffenpoof Song.” Those who prefer the fourth wall intact should stay at home — it crumbles the moment the theater doors open, with a waitress and bartender offering “lousy pasta and warm beer” for $5 (accurate) and bantering with the audience.
The show takes place during the summer of 1918, following 18-year-old hoodlum Al Capone (actor Will Thomae) as his nickname changes from “Babyface” to “Scarface.” He finds a job at a dive bar in Coney Island called the Harvard Inn, ruled by ruthless gangster Frankie Yale (Nikos Brisco), who schools the youngster in slinging beer and knocking heads.
Rob Romeo is delightful as the show’s host, Jimmy Durante, laying the schtick on thick with a hotch-cha-cha cadence, playing enough piano to qualify the show as a mobster musical, and moving the plot forward whenever it gets slow. It’s all delivered with a wink and a laugh — the vaudeville jokes are cheesy, but it’s easy to get swept along and root for these charming characters.
A couple of notable sequences include a slow-motion boxing match that shows off Thomae’s gift for exaggerated faces, and a series of quick-changes brings actors Rob Aloi and Rita Posillico back again and again as a less and less-welcome visitors to the club.
But for all those moments of fun, there are just as many that might leave you squirming. Playwright Zigun does not let you forget that these mobsters were also monsters; innocent people get gunned down on and off stage; and the casual sexism runs deep, with underage Clara Bow (Natalie Michaels) getting groped and handed over to Capone as a reward. I cannot blame anyone who backs out, but the show does not revel in its historic accuracy, and Bow gets her own moment to fight back.
Overall, it makes for a fun evening — a look back into Coney Island history that might be accurate, but is definitely entertaining, with a cast of actors who are giving it their all.
“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.coney
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