Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Crime Theater




JAN: Arlene Violet, a former nun, was the attorney general in Providence when I was a reporter there in the mid 1980s, and all sorts of corruption was percolating. She later would write her memoir, Convictions, and go on to become Rhode Island's number one talk radio host. Now, she's written a play, a musical about the mob, called The Family, and it starts running at Providence's prestigious, Trinity Repertory Theater. next month: from June second to July first.

I don’t open all my emails from Trinity Rep. in Providence but when I saw a musical about the mafia – I was sold, even before I saw that Arlene Violet wrote it. I knew from her vast experience as Attorney General that she had the material. But my biggest question for Arlene was this: How did you decide to make it a play – AND A MUSICAL, at that?

ARLENE: Enrico Garzilli, the brilliant composer and lyricist, had just finished his Michealangelo, a musical at PPAC. He suggested that we do something together. We decided that it should be about the Mob since during my two stints in the office of Attorney General (1976-77-head of Consumer Fraud) and in the mid-80’s as Attorney General, I often interacted with informants, police and the accused. There were so many stereotypes, I felt that it was time to do something authentic so the public would understand how these mob operations were able to take root since today’s gangs follow a similar pattern.

I love the tradition of musical theatre where the dialogue leads up to the emotional moment of the scene which is carried by the music/lyrics. For maximum dramatic impact, we decided on a musical.

JAN: The Providence Journal reports that you got your inspiration from Raymond Patriarca, the former mob boss. Tell me more about that.

ARLENE: - Don Marco, the godfather, in THE FAMILY, is the personification of a mob boss like Raymond Patriarca. The “boss” is able to keep the “respect” of the neighborhood because he sometimes does charitable things. I believe that sometimes good guys are bad and bad guys are good so this element is in the musical. One incident in Patriarca’s life where he did an extremely generous act is in THE FAMILY.

JAN: Tell us a little about the plot of the play.

ARLENE: The musical is called THE FAMILY because the godfather has to juggle his mob family(a wise guy defects into the witness protection program which, in turn, causes this witness his own family problems, his own family where his son does not want to be a member of the mob,and the “family” demands of his community. All the “family” conflicts converge in the climax of the musical.

The protagonist is Don Marco. His antagonist is Joe Barros, the wise guy who goes into witness protection. They do a “minuet ‘of trying to take each other out with tragic consequences.

JAN: This play sounds terrific. What was the hardest part of writing it as a play? How is it different from telling a story in book form?

ARLENE: The biggest difference in writing a play from a book is that you have to have an enhanced visual /aural perception of how to advance the story. While writers are told all the time to “show the story” and use these cues, in theatre anything that can be told in a minimum of dialogue. With “sight/sound “ it is critically important not to overwrite. Because I am a believer of the “traditional musical’s” structure, I believe that dialogue leads up to the emotional impact of the scene with music.

JAN: What’s it like working with a composer? Do you have input into the songs and lyrics or is it completely the composer’s domain?

ARLENE: Working with Enrico was a joy. He is brilliant and because of this fact, he is never threatened .We often talked about both the structure of the musical and the lyrics because I was more of a “thug’ than he was!

JAN: Are you the producer as well? Tell us about casting?

ARLENE: I am the managing producer. We have what is called in the business a “Front End Investor” agreement. These Rhode Islanders who invested, insisted that I be the producer in control (they also are producers) re husbanding their respective investments. Casting is always difficult for a musical since the actor must be a “triple threat”, i.e. must be a great actor, singer and dancer .We did close to two hundred auditions from the northeast to come up with the sixteen cast members.

JAN: We have a lot of crime writers who follow our blog, Any advice you have for anyone wanting to use their material to write a play?

ARLENE: Re the wonderful crime writers on this blog, my best advice is to believe in your work. Then revisualize/auralize your Work re scenes. You get to (and must) “show” much more in a play then the written word.

JAN: You’ve been a nun, lawyer, attorney general, author, radio talk show host, playwriting, (and possibly producer? ) What haven’t you done, and what could possibly be next??

ARLENE: This sounds like I can’t keep a job! My next most important goal would be to be a crime writer as good as the people who are reading this!




5 comments:

Roberta Isleib said...

Arlene, this is totally fascinating! and what a life you've led! Do you have a musical background?

I have a friend who's always wanted to make one of golf mysteries into a musical. I never could quite picture it:). How do even begin?

Hallie Ephron said...

Arlene - Congratulations. The Trinity Rep is such a great venue. I've always wanted to write a play, but to me it feels so much harder than a novel. No internal dialogue, no description...

As you say, everything has to be seen or heard but it can't be overwritten. A major challenge.

But how wondrous to see your work performed! I'm definitely going to come down from Boston and catch a performance (and eat in one of Providence's great great restaurants).

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Arlene--how amazing. Wonderful.And small world--I covered the Ralph Richard trial. Were you in office then?

Maybe we should have a Jungle Red theater night!

Roberta--you start with someone offstage singing out: Fore! and then cue the dancing caddies. I like it.

Rebecca said...

Congratulations, Arlene, what an amazing venture! I'm really curious to hear what the musical numbers are like (something in the Guys 'n Dolls vein?). Since I started taking voice lessons a few months ago, I've been working on pieces from the golden age of musicals, so many of which were incredibly popular in their day. It's so heartening to hear that there's revitalized interest in writing new musicals and performing them at prestigious venues. Hear hear!

Hank, your suggestion of someone singing "Fore" and sending the tap-dancing caddies out just pulled up an image from "The Producers," and a few choice scenes from "Blazing Saddles." I think you've nailed it--Mel Brooks-style is probably the way to go (unless Roberta's friend is trying to tackle the subject a bit more seriously).