The Apollo Theatre may never have felt so spacious. One lecturer, three television monitors and an actress fail to fill the stage, and a bemused and restless crowd certainly fail to fill the auditorium. Not so much a play, An Audience With the Mafia feels more like a book reading on the glamorised deaths and fortunes of the American criminal underclass.
A man identifying himself only as The Mercy Man leads the audience through a tawdry two-hour, step-by-step guide to who’s who and who killed who in the American mafia from its birth over a century ago to the present day. Passing through prohibition, the roaring Twenties and the building of Las Vegas, The Mercy Man delivers a well-constructed narrative - the piece’s primary saving grace - accompanied only by video images and the occasional appearance of actress Nicole Faraday dressed in a variety of wigs and gowns.
Unfortunately, The Mercy Man is not a natural performer. Clearly passionate about the subject matter, he delivers the so-called play in a frustratingly didactic manner, occasionally and painfully highlighting Keith Strachan’s direction by pausing awkwardly or delivering certain lines with unnatural emphasis. There’s certainly merit to The Mercy Man’s enthusiasm, and the play covers enlightening accounts of friendships gone bad and business deals made with blood. The main frustration is that there’s nothing here that even attempts to challenge stereotypes formed from popularised and sensationalised accounts of camaraderie and brotherhood amid bloodshed and extortion.
Nicole Faraday holds her own as the supporting female, tackling a number of characters with ease and stature, but as she takes to the stage in a cheap Marilyn Monroe outfit and prepares to sing happy birthday to ‘Mr President’, it’s difficult not to cringe. Neither performer is aided by the technical team, who have either been pushed beyond their limits by the three-monitor backdrop or have gone home early with half of the audience. Sound clips are dropped into the performance unexpectedly and one of the monitors flicks between pictures of Al Capone and a windows screen saver.
All in all, the consistent distractions of poor acting, technical glitches and jovial, almost self-mocking voiceovers make it difficult to take any of this show seriously. As a result, An Audience With the Mafia falls apart at the seams despite the contributions of some clearly passionate minds.