In David Mamet’s new play, China Doll, Al Pacino owned the stage. His acting was dynamic as he took his audience with him on an emotive grand tour, from whimpering sincere remorse to booming rancorous anger, from doting older-gent gallantry to cutthroat business tycoon-ery. From serene to severe, Pacino can project all levels of fervency, but while he effectively plays placid his calling is intensity.
He nailed the mostly likeable role of the past-his-prime but kindhearted Danny Collins in the 2015 Dan Fogelman aging rock star movie. He was suave and persuasive as Ricky Roma, the top hotshot salesman in the 1992 movie adaptation of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross. Twenty years later in the Broadway run of Glengarry, Pacino effectively played the part of the washed up salesman Shelley Levine previously played by Jack Lemmon. Some critics hammered him in that role but what do they know, I thought he was great.
However, for me, he truly shines in the crazier, more manic roles, such as the hapless Sonny Wortzik in Dog Day Afternoon or the calculating Michael Corleone in The Godfather. And certainly he had many manic moments in Mamet’s rambling, what-the-hell-was-he-thinking play, China Doll. How an experienced playwright can go from the creative, captivating brilliance of Glengarry to the infertile desert of China Doll I do not know. But Pacino made it fascinating and entertaining: He held it together.
Maybe the differences between superb and second-rate are actually incredibly small, as in genome sequencing, where only one percent is the disparity between King George and Curious George. Perhaps Glengarry was just a chromosome away from failure as China Doll is from perfection. But clearly Glengarry gets the Cadillac and China gets the steak knives.
So I’ve had a bit of an Al Pacino fest this past month. After seeing him from the first row in China Doll on Broadway I re-watched a few of his movies. Although, most unfortunately, my daughter made me watch that lowbrow Adam Sandler flick Jack and Jill where Pacino fabulously makes a fool of himself as Dunkaccino. Then in Sicily I had to go to where it all started: the real-life rustic town of Corleone. It’s a bit of a trek over dodgy roads but when you get there it’s worth it—there’s an old Godfather poster hanging outside a bar next to the town square and inside you can order a drink called the Pacino. But I prefer something with caffeine, because coffee is for closers. For food, I like revenge, a dish that tastes best when served cold.