Obviously, Buddy Cianci should star in a stage play. Why not? The man did everything else. He spent 21 years in office. He prosecuted gangsters. He hosted his own radio show. He sold marinara sauce. He attended Little League games. He kept multiple mistresses. He sometimes flew around in a helicopter. He rose to unprecedented heights of political power; he was convicted of racketeering; he spent more than four years in “a federally funded gated community.” And on and on.
But you know all this – whether you live on the East Side or in Honolulu – because the posthumous Buddy Cianci is even more famous than the living Buddy Cianci. Crimetown, which is basically just a chronicle of Cianci’s breakneck life, has become one of the most successful podcasts of all time. David Mamet, the iconic tough-guy dramatist, allegedly wrote a screenplay about him. And even if you skip Cianci’s own autobiography, Politics and Pasta, you may enjoy Mike Stanton’s 2003 bestseller, The Prince of Providence: The True Story of Buddy Cianci, America’s Most Notorious Mayor, Some Wiseguys, and the Feds.
This is the book that Trinity Repertory Company now adapted for stage, minus the cumbersome subtitle. This is the world premiere that Rhode Islanders have been clamoring for. This is the production that the Boston Globe dubbed “the new Hamilton.” By the time you read these words, the entire run may be sold out.
“It’s such a fascinating, captivating story,” says Tyler Dobrowsky, associate artistic director at Trinity Rep. “It’s almost Shakespearean.”
“He was, and is, a very divisive figure,” says Taibi Magar, the show’s director. Like a mix of Hamlet and Lear, Cianci made choices that touched on bigger themes. “I hope the audience walks away pondering the larger questions underneath his story: What made him that way? Was he always that way, or is the system engineered for corruption? How did the leading prosecutor of corruption – in his time – become (arguably) the most corrupt politician we have ever had? Also, why did this story happen in Providence? What is the story of this city?”
But how do you solve a problem like Vincent Cianci, Jr.? How do you turn such an epic life into a play? His career is outsized, too colorful to summarize in two hours. What moments do you pick? How do you paint such a controversial figure, such a prismatic personality? Do you include his military service? Do you mention his last-minute engagement to a model half his age? How much time do you dedicate to the assault charges, and how much to the racketeering trial? Couldn’t his relationship with former mayor Joseph Paolino, both combative and fraternal, become its own miniseries? How do you put an entire urban facelift – the downtown mall and rerouted rivers that Cianci championed – on a single stage, if at all?
Retelling these events isn’t easy, but the hardest part about the Cianci story is telling it the right way. Once he was released from prison, the former mayor was fairly open – even good-humored – about his foibles in office. Yet people still love him. To this day, supporters insist that the ends justified the means. Cianci dedicated his life to lifting Providence out of the doldrums. Love him or hate him, there is no way to imagine our capital without his influence.