NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Thursday, December 3, 2015, 10:00 PM
David Mamet said his new play, written for frequent muse, Al Pacino, would be “better than oral sex.”
Oral sex? “China Doll” is not even better than oral surgery.
At least for that sort of medical procedure you get painkillers. And it’s not a complete waste of time and money. “China Doll” — henceforth “China Dud” — is both.
Pacino is Mickey Ross, who’s on his cellphone for three-quarters of the show. Not the stuff of great drama. And if we wanted to be entertained by one-sided conversations, we’d watch Lily Tomlin in “Laugh-In” reruns.
Ross is rich. Filthy rich. You can tell from his fancy digs. He’s bought his much-younger fiancee a $ 60 million jet. But the plane is stuck out of the country and he can’t reach her despite efforts of his devoted minion Carson (a hard-working Christopher Denham). The assistant spends most of his time patching in calls to the unseen girlfriend, lawyer and others.
The story feints that it’ll be about infidelity and a May-December romance. But after endless chatter about taxes, immigration issues and cavity searches, the convoluted plot reveals itself to be about payback.
Mickey has pissed off some powerful politicians and they’re making him squirm. In a typical Mamet twist, Carson goes from peripheral mouse to Major Player. By that time, you’ve stopped caring.
Director Pam MacKinnon (a Tony winner for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”) makes only one discernible contribution. She signed off on one of the clumsiest, least convincing fights ever on stage.
The entire production hinges on its star attraction. Pacino has won a couple of Tony Awards and spun his “Scent of a Woman” hoohah into an Oscar. But he can’t make Mamet’s malarkey into anything.
Some actors can make reading the white pages fascinating. Pacino fails to make phone calls anything but drudgery. He lacks authority playing this millionaire and he doesn’t get traction from his customary eccentricities. The trademark shrugs, hand gestures, wide eyes and that gravelly voice feel like the same old, same old.
You expect a lot from these pros. In other projects, Mamet and Pacino worked elaborate cons. But by the time Mickey starts wailing “will no one help an old man” it feels the star and the audience are being punk’d.
Save your dough. Rent “Glengarry Glen Ross” instead.