Lansky/The Car Plays

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Much has been made of Hannah Arendt’s discussion of the “banality of evil,” the human face of a Nazi like Adolph Eichmann, about whom she wrote in Eichmann in Jerusalem. In fact, the play Lansky, written by Richard Krevolin and Joseph Bologna, directed by the latter, manages to present mobster Meyer Lanksy as a put-upon, persecuted figure whose attempts to permanently emigrate to Israel are foiled. All this is done between his musings about his life and bromides about the corned beef in both Miami and Israel, where the play takes place.

Mike Burstyn imbues the character with the right mix of humanity, toughness and self-entitlement, and Krevolin and Bologna have done deep research, to bring to the fore such topics as his family’s persecution in Russia, his relationships to such Mafiosi as Lucky Luciano and Bugsy Siegel, investing with the latter in a new development called Las Vegas. While gambling and money-laundering seemed to be Lansky’s forte, the inner demons depicted in the work seem to be about a former wife, sketchily mentioned. Bologna’s staging becomes curious when he has Burstyn confront an audience member and insist on taking a bite of a corned beef sandwich, one that does not meet with his approval. This uncomfortable breaking of the fourth wall ironically provides one of the few moments of tension or menace. While well-constructed, the play opts for self-deceit and self-pity on the part of the character, which makes its two act structure a bit bulky.

Breaking the fourth wall in an entirely different way is the Moving Arts production of The Car Plays, presented once each month at the Steve Allen Theatre’s parking lot. Three rows of five cars are the stages for these ten-minute pieces, generated by a variety of playwrights for audiences of one or two at the time per car. Series B, the only one available to this writer, sported a couple of crime-related pieces, well-performed but not entirely gripping. But writer-director Michael David scores with Ladies of the Evening, in which a matron (Mary Boucher) attempts to engage a female prostitute, only to learn she is a he (Brian Weir).

The intense intimacy of these works, set in cars, where the audience may be guided to a front or back seat, is utterly addictive. Sometimes the performers acknowledge one’s presence, inches away from them, and sometimes not. The logistics of setting up the “stage” prevent the show from being performed for many at a time, or for more than one night a month. But the site specific boundary-stretching of the show makes it well worth one’s while to hit the open road of theatricality.

[Lansky by Richard Krevolin and Joseph Bologna at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd, West Los Angeles. The Car Plays presented by Moving Arts at the Steve Allen Theatre, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles.]

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