January 8, 2016
Solitude doesn’t suit Mickey Ross. He’s an old man, but his fighter’s instincts are still sharp; no man is going to get the best of him. In China Doll, a new play by David Mamet directed by Pam MacKinnon, Ross comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. Loosing control is what makes him roar, which is how the play opens, as Ross confronts his assistant Carson (Christopher Denham) that he has lost his new private plane and his fiancée. His righteous fury subsides as he digests the information that both are in Toronto; a not entirely believable apology follows. What can be more infuriating than taxes (his plane made in Switzerland has been impounded due to a US sales tax which he thought he could avoid), or a fantasy (that he could escape his political battles and begin a new life with a young beauty) deferred? Thus begins a cycle of conversations, only the one with Carson visible, with his lawyers, his fiancée, his rivals.
The star of the show, Al Pacino, is the muse for this play. While the buzz for this limited engagement at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre pre and post-opening was largely negative, Pacino now fully possesses his role, delivering the two-hour near monologue with the breadth of emotion of a mature Beethoven, each word crisp and perfectly placed. Beethoven, however, creates a wave of empathy and love with his compositions; while Mamet, makes us wary and leaves us weary.
The first act tests our patience but the second one wins our admiration and makes you understand why Mamet lets Ross keep circling through his associates like a dancer changing partners. When he is not mid-tango (albeit an abstractly verbal one), Pacino slumps in his chair, drags his feet, his shrinking frame rounded, or throws his arms down, with his hands open, a gesture that pleads “Why Me?” Why Now?”
Ross would have won our sympathy in his predicament, if he weren’t such a bully and bore. His actions are uncomfortably familiar. He is of course a manipulator, whose maneuvers are transparent but compelling, and ultimately unconscionable. In this age of billionaires daring to rule the world, this is a play of our time.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Deirdre Towers