Like the Sopranos on Steroids

Five deez-dem-and dowz guys are currently chewing up the stage of the Ruskin Group Theatre in Santa Monica. You might think of them as the Sopranos on steroids. In the first of playwright/director Sam Henry Kass’ three one acts, jointly titled Siddown!!! (Conversations with the mob) the terrifically nuanced Cris D’Annunzio plays Punchy, a forlorn petty thief who is being shunned by his bosses because of one-too-many screw-ups. (When the storage warehouse where he was to deliver his “goods” was locked, he drove a hijacked 18-wheeler and its stolen cargo of cigarettes home and parked it in front of his house—in broad daylight.) So now, he is sitting in a restaurant pushing a salad around on his plate while he pleads with Lenny (Jason Paul Field) to “just mention my name” to the powers that be. Punchy’s arguments veer from self-righteousness (after years of doing grunt work he feels, a la Romney, that he is “entitled” to consideration) to pathos and self-pity. The dialogue is sharp and witty and both actors do it justice, but the mesmerizing bit in this scene is watching Lenny assiduously down a bowl of tomato soup, a full plate of spaghetti, two rolls, and a glass of wine while refuting Punchy’s pleas. The second playlet involves John Paul Field and Jeff Adler as “Lefty and Squinty,” two minor mobsters waiting in court for the verdict on multiple charges against their boss. These are two acting

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tours de force, hilarious in their quirkiness and timing. And what is truly remarkable is that, wearing a different outfit, a hat, and a compulsive twitch, Field is completely unrecognizable as the same actor who was so cool and cruel in the first scene. The third vignette, “Dice and Cards,” is less entertaining than the first two, but it is still well-played. The mob dialogue is not as gripping, and even becomes a bit tedious at times. The main attraction in this scene, however, is watching ex-lightweight boxing champ Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini alternately coach and berate young Richie, who is played by his real-life son, Leo Mancini.Leo, who is a student at the Ruskin School, is making his acting debut in this production. Richie is a little stupid, to put it mildly, and doesn’t quite get it when he is told very explicitly that dice and cards have to be changed every 15 minutes when you’re a dealer in a casino. “You mean use NEW cards?” Richie asks incredulously. This show, Siddown!!! premiered in New York in 1992. This is its West Coast debut. It will run Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 through December 23rd at the Ruskin Group Theatre, 3000 Airport Road

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in Santa Monica. Call (310) 397-3244 for reservations. Photo: Jeff Adler and Jason Paul Field  

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