Did you know that Al Pacino is 75 years old?
I did not before yesterday.
Through the misfortune of my friend Elisa getting sick with the flu, I took her place to attend the Broadway performance of China Doll, written by David Mamet and starring Al Pacino.
China Doll opened to scathing reviews, mostly directed towards Pacino’s performance along with questions about Mamet’s plot or lack thereof. Critics observed that Pacino had trouble remembering his lines and that he was difficult to hear clearly or understand.
The recently renovated Schoenfeld is small and compact enough that an actor on the stage is easily observed and heard.
The sound was fine. There was no problem hearing the volume of the dialog that was mostly various one-sided phone conversations or theatrical rants and emotional outbursts.
I found a subtle undertow to the story. Mamet gave an early brief overview of the story by saying, “the man (Mickey Ross) has just bought a new plane as a wedding present for his girl. He intends to go into semi-retirement and enjoy himself. In the process of leaving his office, giving last minute instructions to his assistant, he takes one last phone call…”
It wasn’t just one last phone call, but a continuous string a phone calls made to various unseen and unheard entities, as Mickey Ross works towards fixing a problem that at first seems to be an inconvenient bump in the road as he plans his exit to semiretirement and marriage to a beautiful much younger woman, his China Doll. That bump becomes a potential roadblock and the character of Mickey Ross is apparently someone who is quite used to having people and tools at his disposal to fix such things. He’s rude and vulgar and often berates his assistant Carson, played by Christopher Denham, and at the same time, educate Carson in how and why things happen the way they do in life and business.
An actor with the resume of Al Pacino will sell tickets for almost any performance. That is a fact. When David Mamet initiated publicity for this play he stated that he wrote this particular play “for Al”. I can see that. Mickey Ross is an old man, self made billionaire and he’s tired and wants to down shift and coast into his Golden years with beauty and comfort. But somewhere along the way to this point he has pissed off enough people that the unseen “powers that be” are working to make sure that doesn’t happen. This is where Pacino shines in this role. His rants are often asking “What more can I do, what do you want from me?”, when all he really wants is to retire from his current life and start a new one, not so much start over, but essentially enjoy the fruits of his labor.
As for the critics’ reviews, it was obvious Pacino stumbled a line here and there, but it wasn’t egregious and he carried the show with his presence and talent. There might have been cues set up for him within the staging and the props.
It didn’t matter to the audience. This was Al Pacino in an age appropriate role with the mouth of Tony Montana (Scarface), the shrewdness of Ricky Roma (Glengarry Glen Ross) and the wistful pining for days past of Lt. Col. Frank Slade (The Scent of a Woman).
David Mamet wrote this play for Al Pacino. But he also claimed that it was better than oral sex. It is not.