Trinity’s ‘Prince’ is a sublime take on Buddy Cianci
PROVIDENCE – A few weeks ago I was driving home from a show in Rhode Island when I turned on radio station WPRO to hear the voice of the late Providence Mayor Vincent A. “Buddy” Cianci, the longest-serving mayor in Providence history, ranting against his enemies.
Aware that Cianci died in 2016, I thought a time warp had opened up and Buddy was back on his popular talk radio show.
It was just a rerun, of course, of which many were still getting strong ratings.
This time, however, I am quite sure a time warp has opened up and Buddy is once again striding the streets of downtown Providence, as big, brassy and bold as ever, in the Trinity Repertory Company’s production of George Brant’s “The Prince of Providence,” based on the best-selling book by Mike Stanton.
At the centerpiece of the sublime 2 hour and 45 minute theatrical experience – which seems to fly by in minutes — is the performance of Scott Aiello as Cianci,, but the entire production is a tribute to the talents of the company, with so many standout turns as the characters who populate Buddy’s world that it would be impossible to list them all. But, for a start, they include Rebecca Gibel as long-suffering (until she wasn’t) wife Sheila Cianci; Erick Betancourt as Mickey Corrente and Charlie Thurston as Herb DeSimone, two Cianci loyalists who stood by him through thick and thin; Stephen Berenson as Providence City Council President Robert Haxton, who was rendered powerless by Buddy; Brian McEleney as Larry McGarry, a Democratic ward boss who helps Cianci win his first race; and Joe Wilson Jr. as Lloyd Griffin, a black politician and expert in “absentee voting.”
In all, the piece encompasses 40 different scene changes and some 120 different costume changes, and performances are constantly racing up and down the aisles of the intimate Dowling Theater. Director Taibi Magar has somehow tamed this flying circus and it all goes off seamlessly.
The opening scene is hilarious as Buddy surveys the various toupees being offered to him before selecting one and then preening and primping before the mirror before emerging from his home.
Buddy, or course, was an aggressive prosecutor making his name going after The Mob before making his longshot bid to become mayor, running as a Republican in a heavily Democratic city controlled by Democratic ward bosses, many of them Irish-American. When he is elected, he is the first Italo-American mayor, and the recipient of every stereotype and ethnic slur you can think of.
Buddy is loath to get married. since it might “cramp his style” but ultimately he and Sheila tie the knot, have a daughter named Nicole and living the good life, until Buddy’s womanizing puts the marriage on the rocks.
Aiello is at his best when “campaigning.” Get ready to pose for a Polaroid “selfie” with the mayor as he prowls the audience seeking votes in his inimitable style.
And while Brant shows us the Dr. Jekyll side of Buddy — he also shows us the Mr. Hyde side, as federal prosecutor Richard Rose (one of many fine turns by Joe Wilson Jr.) did in his federal corruption trial, as he called .out Cianci for turning Providence into his “personal piggy bank.” The chilling assault on Ray DeLeo (Mauro Hantman) the man he believed was romantically involved with his estranged wife, is also front and center, forcing a no contest plea in court in 1984 and his first resignation. His second resignation came in 2002 after his conviction for racketeering conspiracy and a four-year sentence in federal prison. An earlier incident in college for which Buddy was never charged was also part of his past.
Yup, it’s all here – the good, the bad, the ugly – of a man who took turns raising up Providence and then bringing it down. To his everlasting credit, he revitalized a city that was long considered an “armpit” and put into place attractions and venues that are still paying big dividends today.
Give credit to Trinity Rep for knowing early on what it had and taking advantage. Tickets have been selling for as much as $250 a pop, and there are few seats left for the run, which has been extended to Oct. 27. It is also serving as a marketing tool towards those who have never been to the theater before.
For a non-profit theater, it will allow Trinity Rep to do shows they want to do and should do but won’t sell a lot of tickets, as well as sustain educational programs and expand programs to bring underserved groups into the theater
It wasn’t lost on either Stanton or Brandt that Cianci was a huge supporter of the arts and Trinity Rep in particular, and the theater’s legacy is also part of his legacy. In a story in the program, observers note Cianci’s support and Aiello as Cianci has fun with it, asking theater-goers how much they paid for their ticket.
A story this good about Buddy wouldn’t ring true if Buddy didn’t have one last chance to set the record straight vis a vis his criminal record and what he meant to the city.
And that will put a coda on a most remarkable night of theater.
“The Prince of Providence.” Play by George Brant. Based on the book by Mike Stanton. Directed by Taibi Magar. Presented by Trinity Repertory Company, Providence, through Oct. 27. Tickets $49-$250, 401-351-4242, www.trinityrep.com