Jeffrey Richards, Jerry Frankel, Jam Theatricals
(China Doll Web Page)
By David Mamet
Directed by Pam MacKinnon
Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre
236 West 45th Street
Scenic Design: Derek McLane
Costume Design: Jess Goldstein
Lighting Design: Russell H. Champa
Casting Director: Telsey + Company – Will Cantler, CSA
And Bialy/Thomas & Associates
Fight Director: Thomas Schall
Technical Supervision: Hudson Theatrical Associates
Press: Jeffrey Richards Associates
Associate Producers: J. F. Sheehan/D. Taylor
Company Manager: Bruce Klinger
Production Stage Manager: Matthew Farrell
General Management: Richards/Climan. Inc.
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
January 19, 2016
Al Pacino, a veteran star of stage and screen, is the lure and lead of Mamet’s newest play, China Doll, and having heard about and read the backstories of the multiple delays of opening night and the multitude of industry complaints, I came tonight for Al Pacino, whom I recently saw in an Indie film, “Manglehorn”. I loved this film, with its endless close-ups of the slow-moving, rumpled Pacino in his angst-filled drama about relationships, and I had déjà vu tonight, watching the slow-moving, rumpled Pacino in another angst-filled drama about relationships. The relationships in China Doll were far more elusive, as Pacino’s dialogue and fraught, telephone monologues were on the order of soundbites. The viewer had to analyze and hypothesize the inherent plot, although, no matter, this was Pacino, a master at gesture, nuance, and presence. He was magnetic. On stage with Mr. Pacino, as Mickey Ross, was Christopher Denham as Carson. Mickey has problems with the Feds, the IRS, and his fiancée, relating to Mickey’s airplane, on which he appears to owe a great deal of taxes (and maybe there’s some additional crime, not clarified). The offstage fiancée enables Pacino to use a telephone and a blue tooth device, which presumably assist him with his lines. There are also reports of lines also being fed through a laptop that Carson shows Mickey, from time to time, regarding laws and related news of their financial and legal saga. Frankly, for a seasoned screen actor, this is de rigueur, and it would not have bothered me if every line was prompted, as experiencing Mr. Pacino live, onstage, is remarkable and absorbing.
China Doll, unlike Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, Speed-the-Plow, RACE, and A Life in the Theatre, was more like his play, The Anarchist, all reviewed on these pages, some twice. Yet, while The Anarchist, for two women, set in a prison, was lackluster and lifeless, China Doll, set in what appeared to be a sleek, penthouse apartment, with views of a terrace, drew me in. Yes, I was not completely clear about why Mickey’s plane was being held on a tarmac in Canada and why Carson was seething beneath his skin, but there was tension and momentum, deliberate and death-defying. I wanted to know more of the self-serving Mickey, and cared little about the disloyal, weak-kneed Carson. You wanted to root for the charismatic, rumpled guy in a tux, over the shallow, preened guy who kept the books. And, I wanted to root for Al Pacino, who dares to perform in an almost solo role, with endless dialogue and monologue in a two-act play, eight shows a week, after a half-century career in film and on stage. He earned my respect. Mr. Denham, as Carson, had minimal lines and action, but was always in character, a complex study in silence.
Derek McLane’s scenery, of that high-windowed apartment, in dark leather and wood, with a bit of steel, was fascinating and uncluttered, not to grab the eye from Mr. Pacino. Even the small model airplane, that becomes the plot focus through the evening, transported the imagination. Jess Goldstein had not a terribly difficult job in costume design, with Mr. Pacino in a worn tux and Mr. Denham in a business suit. Russell H. Champa’s lighting included low-hanging lamps that lent a dim allure to the surrounding, while sound design was not credited. I would suggest the sound be further amplified. Pam McKinnon, Director, could have placed Mr. Pacino front stage, to amplify his speech, but, as noted above, there were logistical complications with dialogue prompting, not that I minded. Mr. Pacino’s presence is expressive wherever he’s staged. Thomas Schall, fight director, kept the actors uninjured during a late show confrontation. Al Pacino should be proud of his courageous performance, as he carries the play throughout two expansive acts. David Mamet might rework the dialogue to inform the viewer in a crisper style of the incremental plot. I strongly suggest adding the fiancée as a third actor, and even Mickey’s lawyer and Ruby, through two additional actors, giving the play more cohesion and comprehension, and limiting Mickey to his own dialogue, rather than having him constantly repeat what’s on the other end of the phone. I would certainly look forward to a revised China Doll, especially on the small stage. Kudos to Al Pacino.
Al Pacino (r) and Christopher Denham (l)
in David Mamet's "China Doll"
Courtesy of Jeremy Daniel