City Cabaret
Twitter Icon Facebook Icon

China Doll

Al Pacino. Photo by Jeremy Daniel
Al Pacino. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre
236 West 45th Street
Opening 12/04/15; Closing 01/31/16
Cast: Al Pacino, Christopher Denham
Director: Pam MacKinnon
Two hours. One intermission
Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors

Toward the end of the run of David Mamet's, "China Doll," thanks should go to Al Pacino for making this overwritten and undernourished play strangely entertaining. Pacino is like a pacing tiger, complaining, conniving, temperamental and sentimental as Mickey Ross, a callous aging tycoon so rich he just bought a new plane for his young fiancée. Unfortunately, the government interferes, creating problems for Ross and he won't stand for it.

As usual, Mamet's work is cynical about the American government and the ruthlessness of capitalism so it's no surprise that Mickey Ross is an unrelenting firebrand. He has made plans to fly to Toronto where his British fiancée and the new plane should be waiting to whisk them off to a lush happily-forever-after life. Unfortunately, there is a snafu.

The Swiss manufacturer was to send the new play straight to Canada, which would have prevented paying a U.S. sales tax. Now Ross hears that the plane was forced to touch down momentarily in the United States. Only a little touch on American soil was enough to cost him a tidy bundle of $5 million and his plane is detained.

This play slogs along, often incoherently, without enough drama to capture attention and too much confusion to care. Ross's fiancée has been refused entry into Canada and he can't contact her in the Toronto hotel where they were to meet. In addition, Ross is also facing a possible Federal indictment. He suspects all this has been caused by the bad blood he shares with "The Kid," a manipulative young politician running for governor. This revelation leads to puzzling phone calls, Mamet-style yelling and angst by Ross to his assistant or to unseen characters on the other side of the phone. The play splinters into more confusion although some of Mamet's wit catches fire, like one audience pleaser, "There's a lot of foolish people out there — many of them vote."

Pacino, with his drooping eyes and bent frame, manages to delivers an energetic performance in a challenging role. The dialogue, basically a monologue, illustrates the character's desperation, greed and arrogance yet Pacino also evokes Ross's love for the young woman with whom he yearns to spend a billionaire-worthy life. His lifeline is a dirty-secret file on the "The Kid" to inveigle himself out of this political mess.

The only other character is Mickey Ross' perturbed assistant, Carson (Christopher Denham) who patiently devotes himself to Ross's business needs until he begins to reveal his own ambitious leanings. The two are working in an urbane modern home-office set designed by Derek McLane with Russell H. Champa's lighting. Jess Goldstein designed costumes, buttoned-up for Denham and showing Pacino, rumpled and ready for battle in black.

Pam McKinnon, a usually reliable director, keeps the characters moving but cannot keep a crisp pace to this unfinished, unpolished script.
Also seen in