By Byrne Harrison
Photos by Nick Tochelli
"The Godfather" gets a little of the Tom Stoppard treatment in this amusing play by Gregg Greenberg. Drawing on Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, though staying away from the more absurdist elements of that work, Clemenza & Tessio Are Dead tells the story of "The Godfather" from the point of view of two of the minor, yet important characters, Peter Clemenza and Sal Tessio, as they play a waiting game while the larger events of the Corleone family play out.
Greenberg's script is full of humor, though as the major events (murders, the rise and fall of the Corleone brothers, etc.) turn dark, so does the play. There are not nearly as many laughs in second half of Clemenza & Tessio as in the first, but that's a good thing.
The most enjoyable part of Clemenza & Tessio comes from watching the strong performances of the lead actors Frank Senger (Clemenza) and Anthony Gallo (Tessio). Both play their characters with gusto, though Gallo's is the more nuanced performance. Joining them in the play is Troy Dane, who plays all the incidental roles, including Don Corleone and his sons, Michael and Fredo. Dane plays his roles a little broader than Senger and Gallo, though for the most part, it works.
Designer Nick Tochelli keeps things remarkably simple with his less-is-more set. Using only a few props, he creates a number of different locations. This pared down aesthetic lets the play move quickly (drawn out scene changes would have kept the tension from building).
Senger, who also directs, keeps things moving quickly, but the production never feels rushed or mechanical. I'm not entirely sure the play needs to have an intermission. It might be a stronger production without this interruption.
The main question I had about this show was would I be able to enjoy it, not having seen "The Godfather." I need not have worried. Greenberg's play never leaves behind the Godfather newbies. By focusing squarely on two interesting characters and their unique views of events mostly outside their control, Greenberg creates a play that will appeal to the aficionado and newcomer alike.
Clemenza & Tessio Are Dead
Written and Produced by Gregg Greenberg
Directed by Frank Senger
Production Stage Manager/Production Designer: Nick Tochelli
Press: Bunch of People Press & Publicity
Featuring: Frank Senger (Clemenza), Anthony Gallo (Tessio), Troy Dane (Buttonman, Don Corleone, Luca Brasi, Michael Corleone, Mrs. Clemenza, Fredo Corleone)
Times Square Arts Center300 West 43rd Street
December 2nd through December 19th
Thursday-Saturday at 8pm
Sunday at 3pm