by Joseph Bologna and Richard Krevolim
Directed by Joseph Bologna
Starring Mike Burstyn
St. Luke's Theatre / 308 West 46th Street
Official Website

Reviewed by David Spencer

Lansky, a one-man show about Meyer Lansky, the Jewish “businessman” who advised and manipulated on a management level, for some of the Mafia’s most notorious gangsters, would seem to be a natural. It has a built-in Jewish audience (to whom it shows evidence of being targeted and marketed), it has a Jewish star (by which I mean conspicuous in his attachment to Jewish-themed projects) in the lead, Mike Burstyn; and a script co-written and directed by Joseph Bologna, who, though Italian, is a Jewish favorite (owing to the many Semite-friendly projects he has written and sometimes appeared in with his wife, Renee Taylor). His collaborator here is Richard Krevolin. Yet it’s a misfire at the conception, albeit one that makes its damning mistake very deliberately.

            The locale is Israel, where Lansky hopes to retire. He’s awaiting the citizenship approval; his bona fides, to say nothing of his Jewishness, should make him a shoo-in. While he waits, he tells us about his background, his life, etc. the biographical profile that historical figures are perforce compelled, if oft without sufficient external motivation, to give in these one-man deals.

            The first ten or fifteen minutes of it are seductive—it’s fun watching Lansky as a smoothie, putting a gloss on everything, and Burstyn knows just how to land it, with the polish of a Rat Pack veteran…but the disarming mystique wears off when you realize it’s not a prelude to the truth, and that Lansky is going to keep up the posturing all night.

            Because Lansky has always hidden behind the shield of “just doing business,” has never himself personally killed a man, has only manipulated money and goods through the system, he has his practiced—perhaps even somewhat internalized—rationalizations reflexively at the ready, and tells us only what he wants his public image to be. Subsequently, save for some stories about family background and his youth on city streets, he never gets anecdotal about the good stuff. Oh, he talks about the casinos he ran, but he never discusses them in the context of a gambling empire. He talks about the famous Mafiosi he knew, yet denies any direct knowledge of a Mafia. The intention is to show how a man kids himself into justifying a life of primarily white collar crime, where if you get your hands dirty, it's mostly from ink smudges.

             But its more a literary conceit than a functional dramatic device—and the lack of real substance makes the show feel like a kreplach shell, without its meat filling.

                The show is (perhaps ironically) at St. Luke’s on 46th Street. And frankly, that neighborhood, if I wanted appetizers, I coulda gone to the Edison. You hear what I’m sayin’, boychick…?

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