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Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

Sweeter Than Justice
Page to Stage Productions
Review by William S. Oser | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's recent review of My Favorite Things

Don Walker, Amanda Schlachter and Joseph Parra
Photo by Courtesy of Page to Stage Productions
Page to Stage Productions, LLC is producing the regional premiere of Robert Lipkin's Sweeter Than Justice. The story started as a novel, was re-imagined as a play which received a reading a few months ago, and now we have a full production directed by Carole Kleinberg.

I have not read the novel but best guess is that it might best be categorized as pulp crime in nature. The stage transfer would have been a good candidate for a TV movie 35 years ago when there were four or five on network TV each week. The story, set in 1963-64 Philadelphia, is reasonably well plotted using the well made plays of the 1950 as a model. It receives a fine production with very good local actors, and makes for a modestly entertaining evening in the theater.

Amanda Schlachter plays Geanina Palmieri, at the center of our plot. She does a good job but the script doesn't really allow her to plumb the emotional depths that this character is going through. Don Walker is a warm presence as bar manager Frank Goldstein, although his ethnicity is not clearly established. Joseph Parra is perfectly cast as mobster Marco Donnatucci right out of a godfather derivative. Rafael Petlock seems to have a lock on cock-sure young men's roles in this area and he inhabits them well. The plot device of the cowboy hat, although Mr. Petlock wears it alluringly, might be altered, as it seems wrong for the character at this time and this place. Tom Foley captures a slightly worn down Detective, and of course he is torn between his girlfriend, Geanina, and the duties of his job. Brianna Larsen plays several roles, the best one being Susan Betelli. Dan Higgs doubles as Father Paul Mahoney effectively and attorney Phillip Kaplan a little less so, although it may have be the awful wig that does him in. The script is chock full of cliches and the cast does a really fine job of rising above them to portray the characters.

Carole Kleinberg does an exemplary job directing this play, pacing it well and helping her actors rise above the cliche-ridden script. This is not meant to be a criticism of the script—cliches are an integral part of this genre. There is an original score, credited to Joe Micals, that covers some of the time during scene changes, but it doesn't enhance the drama of the play. Robert Foti has designed some very effective sets for this not high budget production, assisted by Jeff Dillon. They are aided by Annette Breazeale and Cristy Owen, whose props contribute a great deal to the set dressing. Costume design by Sandra Musicante gets the job done but is not one of the strongest assets of the production. It is very nice to see Garry Allan Breul serving as stage manager.

All of this leaves me wondering what could be next for i>Sweeter Than Justice?. It is definitely not of Broadway quality, and I doubt it will have much appeal to regional theaters because of its lack of serious substance and its fairly large cast requirements. It could possibly have some appeal to community theaters, especially those with an older audience base, but I don't see much potential success in that arena either. Perhaps Robert Lipkin has given us a piece whose time has passed it by.

Sweeter Than Justice is presented through May 22, 2016, at the Cook Theater 5555 Tamiami Trail N, Sarasota Fl 34243. For tickets call Sarasota Ballet Box Office at 941 359-0099 or visit

Geanina Palmieri: Amanda Schlachter,br>Frank Goldstein: Don Walker
Marco Donnatucci: Joseph Parra*
Michael Shapiro: Tom Foley
Joey Donnatucci: Rafael Petlock
Susan Botelli, Sylvia Goldstein, Court Stenographer: Brianna Larsen
Father Paul Mahoney, Attorney Philip Kaplan: Dan Higgs
*=Member of Actors' Equity Association

Director: Carole Kleinberg
Stage Manager: Garry Allan Breul*
Lighting/Sound Technical Director: Chris McVicker
Set Design: Robert Foti
Set Consultant: Jeff Dillon
Sound Design: Seth Berry
Sound Operator: Andrew Bosworth
Production Manager: Carole Goff
Property Design: Annette Breazeale
Props Mistress: Sandra Musicante
Costume Design: Cristy Owen
House Manager: David Coyle
Public Relations: Kelly Fores

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