Six Goumbas and a Wannabe

Six Goumbas and a Wannabe
Six Goumbas and a Wannabe

The “wannabe” in the new comedy Six Goumbas and a Wannabe is its author. There are a lot of talented actors involved in the play, but they’re all in search of a playwright. Vincent M. Gogliormella takes credit for penning this so-called comedy at the Players Theatre, but the ineptitude of his character development, story structure, and dialogue leaves a cast of more than one dozen performers floundering in a sea of clichés. To its credit, this is an unpretentious affair that isn’t trying to be anything other than an affectionate comedy about contemporary Italian-American men (and one Jew, who wants to be Italian). Unfortunately, the play traffics in stereotypes that are not so much affectionate as they are heavy-handed. Only the buoyant resourcefulness of several of the lead actors keeps this cheesy piece from becoming completely spoiled.

We’re reluctant to recount the plot–not because we’re afraid of ruining it, but because we don’t want to bore you. Suffice it to say that a group of old friends from Brooklyn, now middle aged, are called together for a reunion in Atlantic City. It turns out that one of their gang was murdered back in the old days. Who killed him? Why didn’t the guys do something about it then? Will they do something about it now? If this sounds pretty compelling, we haven’t yet told you how stupid all of these guys are. The entire plot falls apart when, in a flashback, we learn that a Mafia kingpin told the gang’s two leaders that he would personally take revenge for the killing; he promised that, if he didn’t, he would let the two friends know and they could take revenge themselves. Well, he didn’t let them know, so it follows that the kingpin kept his word. End of plot.

Or so you would think. But, oh, those subplots! Fugettaboutit! When a sexy woman insinuates herself into the men’s suite, they don’t think she’s a hooker. We’re supposed to buy this? When a member of the gang comes out of the gay closet, these macho characters readily shrug it off. That’s realistic? Then there’s the Jew who wants to be accepted as an Italian, a cute idea overplayed to the point of offensiveness.

Director Thomas G. Waites doesn’t help matters. The staging of the show is lugubrious and the scene changes are amateurish; at one point, the actors were standing on stage in the dark for at least a full minute, waiting for the lights to come back on so they could pick up the action. That might have been a one-time only snafu, but the rest of the production is consistently ragged and thoroughly unimpressive.

You have to give the actors a lot of credit for slogging through this theatrical quicksand. In particular, Joe Maruzzo gives a charismatic performance as one of the gang’s leaders, Vinny; he keeps you involved in his character even though he is far too young for the role. And Dan Grimaldi is surprisingly natural as Danny, the instigator of the reunion.

The playwright is the nephew of Vincent Gardenia who, late in his life, starred in a succession of highly successful Off-Broadway “Mob” comedies. Clearly, this play is intended to continue, you’ll excuse the expression, the “Family” tradition. It doesn’t.