Theatre Review

Trinity's 'Prince of Providence' packs a wallop

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Everybody has a Buddy Cianci story.

Trinity Rep gives us the full load in George Brant’s overwhelming play, based on Mike Stanton’s book and directed by Taibi Magar. From the opening, with the tremendous cast singing the Rhode Island song, to the best ending I’ve ever seen in a stage production, “The Prince of Providence” tells the story of Providence’s Jekyl and Hyde former mayor with humor, pathos and drama.

Chicago actor Scott Aiello has captured the essence and aura of Buddy, while not his spittin’ image. He fits in perfectly with the ensemble of Trinity regulars, who play real-life characters that will be familiar to many. Get there a few minutes early and read the brief descriptions of the characters in the program. Those of us – and there are many – will recognize the men and women in Buddy’s life, either personally or from the media.

The play runs over two and a half hours with an intermission to catch our collective breaths and still can barely touch on all the events in Cianci’s up and down life and career. It starts with his first run for mayor and continues by giving us some highlights and lowlights, including the infamous Ray DeLeo (Mauro Hantman) encounter with the fireplace log and cigarette; Cianci’s deal with the devil and his union members; saving PPAC from becoming a parking lot, the garbage strike, his divorce from Sheila (Rebecca Gibel) and dozens more.

Trinity pokes fun at itself in more than one scene, while depicting its own relationship with the mayor.

More than a dozen actors are used to provide a plethora of roles, requiring multiple costume changes.

Stephen Berenson, who plays City Council President Robert Haxton, also plays many other roles. He told me that he has 16 costume changes and six wig changes, crediting his dresser with the impossible job of getting him on and off stage and making sure his fly is zipped. Ditto for Brian McEleny, who plays Larry McGarry, the infamous Democratic city chairman and many other small parts that collectively keep the action on overdrive.

Everyone has ensemble parts, including Janice Duclos as Buddy’s devoted secretary, Phyllis Kay as Judge Torres, Joe Wilson Jr. as Lloyd Griffin and Richard Rose (two completely different characters), and Charlie Thurston as a nervous, uncomfortable Herb DeSimone.

Credit to set designer Sara Brown for a set that looks like the area outside Cianci’s office and, thanks to some quick movement of props and people, takes us inside and outside City Hall.

“The Prince of Providence” may not play well in Peoria, but it is required attendance for anyone who has had Buddy show up at their backyard picnic, had a Polaroid taken with him, received a turkey from him at Thanksgiving, or followed his antics in the media.

A final word about the final minutes of the play, which Berenson told me were carefully reworked by director and cast. It is by far worth whatever you paid to see this production. I won’t tell you anything about it. It has to unfold for itself. But Buddy/Aiello has his finest moment at the expense of all of us who see the results of his Dr. Hyde side: the Renaissance of the City of Providence.

“The Prince of Providence” is in the downstairs Dowling Theatre and has been extended through October 27. Beg, borrow or steal a ticket, but get to see it. Call 351-4242 for reservations.

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