By Kimberly Rau
There are few names from Rhode Island that get the kind of recognition that Buddy Cianci’s does. The mayor of Providence who is credited with revitalizing the city, and is also notorious for the charges brought against him, is certainly a polarizing figure. What better place, then, to premiere the play that’s based on Mike Stanton’s The Prince of Providence than the theater that hosts Cianci’s name on a plaque in the lobby?
It’s already been extended once and sold better than any other non-holiday show at Trinity, and, over the course of almost three hours, provides a re-hashing of Cianci’s illustrious time presiding over the capital city. All the major highlights are there: his first platform of anti-corruption, buying votes through the unions, busting up a garbage truck strike, cheating on his wife, winning one election by a scant few hundred votes. Revitalizing downtown. Allegedly raping a young woman at gunpoint in college. Waterfire. That moment with the fireplace log. The mall. That time his then-wife reportedly pulled a gun on him. The tap dance that was his eventual trial. If it’s even possible to provide a balanced view of Buddy Cianci, author George Brant comes pretty close.
Under the brilliant direction of Taibi Magar, the very talented Scott Aiello puts his heart and soul into playing Buddy. There are moments at the end where you completely forget you’re watching a play and give over to the righteous indignation of a man convicted, in his words, “for being mayor. Aiello has completely embodied the role, no small feat when the character is so recognizable, managing to be both very likeable and intimidating, sometimes in the same moment. The supporting cast is just as solid, all playing at least two roles, and Rebecca Gibel as Sheila Cianci is another perfect casting choice. Gibel captures every nuance and character trait: engaging and friendly to the public and positively terrifying behind closed doors, and possibly one of the only people to truly hold any power over her husband. Other notable performances include Erick Betancourt as the “stand up guy” Mickey Corrente, who’s willing to do anything, even jail time, for his mayor; Charlie Thurston as Herb, the good guy who upholds his moral code by looking the other way until he can’t anymore; and Joe Wilson Jr. as Lloyd Griffin, king of the absentee ballots. And special mention goes to Mauro Hantman as Ray DeLeo who, after almost taking a log to the head, sits terrified and bleeding while Cianci explicitly spells out what further non-compliance will cost him. Cianci demands his quaking guest repeat the threat verbatim. “D-E-D, dead,” Hantman says with a completely straight face. The nervous laughter of the audience turned full-blown.
The show is funny in moments, sobering in others, and avoids passing judgment, allowing the audience members to form their own opinions. Is the play about a scary guy who allegedly did some terrible things? Yes. Could the luxury antique car that was parked out on the street for the entirety of opening night have sat there 30 years ago without being vandalized? Probably not. Is that all thanks to Buddy? You decide.
At close to $200 for some seats and tickets selling fast, this may be one you end up having to miss, but if you have the means and the luck to score a seat, and have even a passing interest in the subject matter, The Prince of Providence is stellar theater with a home court advantage. Neither character assassination nor exoneration, this is an exploration of the dichotomy that was the loved and loathed mayor of Providence. And the ending is just as it should be, breaking just about every theater convention but still working on every level. Buddy Cianci may not have had a pristine record, but the play about him is perfect.
The Prince of Providence runs through Oct. 27 at Trinity Rep, 210 Washington St., Providence. Tickets may be obtained at the box office, online at trinityrep.com or by calling 401.351.4242.