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Mike Burstyn as "Lansky" at St. Luke's Theatre

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The Little Man and the Law

(Meyer Lansky Memorial Website)
By Richard Krevolin & Joseph Bologna
Directed by Joseph Bologna

Starring Mike Burstyn

St. Luke’s Theatre
Operated by Edmund Gaynes
And West End Artists Company
308 West 46th Street

Set Design: John Iacovelli
Costume Design: Cyona Burstyn
Lighting Design: Graham Kindred
Projection Design: Christopher Ash
Sound Design: David Beaudry
Original Music: Grant Sturiale
Press: Beck Lee/Media Blitz, Inc.
General Management: Jessimeg Productions
Edmund Gaynes, Julia Beardsley

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
February 20, 2009

Tel Aviv, Israel, 1971

Mike Burstyn, a veteran entertainer, worldwide, of stage, screen, and television, has family roots in Yiddish theatre and an uncanny aptitude to captivate the imagination and transport the audience to another milieu. Decades ago, Meyer Lansky, one tough man, meets his match in Israel’s Golda Meir, whom he insists owes him a favor. That favor is gratitude for intercepting enormous caches of weapons, right at the waterfront, out of the hands of Arabs and into the hands of Israelis. It’s also gratitude for making Nazi “associates” disappear into thin air, for raising philanthropic funds for Israel, for helping “Goldie Meyerson” in her political rise, and for being a high profile, good Jew, who was always good to his mother. The play, by Joseph Bologna and Richard Krevolin, directed by Mr. Bologna, runs intermission-less, a little over one hour. Burstyn is in his favorite Tel Aviv restaurant, with his own private phone, calling a senator named “Abe”, waiting to hear that Prime Minister Meir has granted him Israeli citizenship. This he sees as the law of Israel and his due right, even though the Feds want his deportation back to the US, for FBI questioning on his “career” in the mob. Lansky was known as the mob’s accountant, the mob’s Jewish brain to financial success.

The setting, a classy café, also includes a white backdrop, on which Christopher Ash’s historical projections illuminate the Russian, Lower East Side, and Island Casino venues so entwined in Lansky’s monologue. The playwrights and director take liberal advantage of Burstyn’s Yiddish theatre training (although Burstyn has also starred in Barnum and The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife), and sometimes his style morphs into Borscht Belt. Yet, these light-hearted moments (like Lansky’s complaining about his pastrami sandwich) serve as emotional contrasts to the darker moments that relate to: Lansky’s wrenching riff with his father, Lansky’s turmoil over his business decisions on Bugsy (Benny) Siegel’s fate, Lansky’s business relationship and dealings with Lucky Luciano and friends, and Lansky’s decisions to institutionalize his first wife, who had breakdowns from Lansky’s lifestyle. Mr. Burstyn is a man of theatrical depth, who can seamlessly shift mood, expression, and posture, as Lansky verbally shifts reference points from impoverished roots, to personal family, to mob associates, to Israeli connections, to his own inner demons. In fact, it was in those moments when Lansky confronted his inner demons that Burstyn showed fire. Burstyn uses charisma, eye contact, and connected conversation to draw the audience in.

Kudos to Mike Burstyn, Joseph Bologna, and Richard Krevolin. Don’t miss this show at St. Luke’s Theatre. Call 212.239.6200 for tickets.

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For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at