e’ve all been between the proverbial “rock and a hard place.” That’s exactly where fictional famous Hollywood writer Ben Hecht found himself in, in the comedy A Visit from Scarface, now playing at Greenbelt Arts Center (GAC). As Directed by Keith Brown, A Visit from Scarface by V. Cate and Duke Ernsberger, was a jolly trip back to an America living under the 18th Amendment and the Hayes Code-influenced Hollywood of the 1930s. The show’s standout performances and energetic repartee made the show a starburst of comicality.
The show which took place in 1932, followed the zany misadventures of Ben Hecht (the fantastic Timbo Longio), who had just finished a screenplay for a movie produced by eccentric billionaire movie producer Howard Hughes called SCARFACE, which was based somewhat on the real life story of Al Capone. Hecht’s series of life complications started when his agent, Myron Selznick (the delightful Steve Rosenthal), turned up at his Hollywood apartment to pick up his script, which was due that day, but it wasn’t ready; there was one line that floated in Hecht’s head that he could not fit into the script: “Say hello to my little friend!”, a line referencing Al Pacino’s 1983 film Scarface. (There was also another dynamite movie entitled Scarface, back in 1932, starring Paul Muni.)
Complications developed more complications when a couple of Capone’s associates, Dutch (Patrick O’Connell) and Patsy (Daniel Potter) came to apply gangster-style censorship on Ben’s script—to make it fit Mr. Capone’s liking. Thrown into the action were a ditzy, blond starlet, Dovie Love (Melanie Pino-Elliot); Miss Spunk (Sarah Nechamen), an uppity lady from the movie censor board; Hannahan (the wonderful Patrick Ready), a long-winded house detective, and an inebriated neighbor, Sinclair (Nick Kisner).
It was fun watching Hecht sweat bullets under Dutch’s intimidation tactics, who insisted of Hecht’s script: “You can have all the free speech you want as long as you say what I want you to say.” Hecht endured all of that for a script, based on a novel written by one Armitage Trail (the real-life author of the Scarface book and film), who Hecht thinks Capone had “bumped-off” recently.
Hecht was also flummoxed by starlet Dovie Love, who was seeing both her co-star (the real-life) George Raft and Howard Hughes—and eventually Patsy. As with any farcical comedy, there were lots of characters hidden in closets and circumnavigating furniture.
O’Connell (reportedly a first-time actor) was exceptional as tough-guy henchman Dutch. His Boston brogue and menacing mannerisms were spot on. Potter’s body language and ad-libbed “stage business”, which included lustily licking a butcher knife whilst flirting with Love, were awesome. Columbia University-trained Pino-Elliott was all 1930’s glitter, glamour and understated humor. Pino-Elliott’s glittery dress was thanks to Costume Coordinator Linda Swann. Longio expertly brought to life a nerdy writer with “little or no sex appeal.” Nechamen’s movie censor, Miss Spunk, played drunkenness well, and hilariously prattled on about “men with no shirts” in movies.
I loved Co-Producer Malca Giblin’s set painting. The set, which included a sliding wall-panel-hidden-liquor cabinet, was impressive. I admired Hurley Cunningham’s Props Design, which included a wooden 30s style radio and a period typewriter. The chez-style couch added a touch of elegance.
GAC has been impressive of late, with all three of its plays from 2016, Bad Jews, Enchanted April, and Dinner With Friends, as well as guest productions of God: The One-Man Show and kinK having been listed among the Best Plays in Community Theatres by this publication.
You can watch a short Greenbelt TV news segment about A Visit from Scarface below and after you do, go and see one of the funnier comedies of this season.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.