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THEATER BEAT

A Tasty Bit of Fiction Enlivens 'Last Call'

July 12, 1996|F. KATHLEEN FOLEY

Frank Ray Perilli's "Last Call" at the Gardner Stage is a brief but anecdotally juicy account of a fictional encounter in 1962 between President John F. Kennedy and notorious Chicago gang boss Sam Giancana.

Trapped at a boring Malibu function, a hungry JFK slips away from his Secret Service guards and heads for Matteo's, a popular Italian eatery owned and operated by his friend Matty Jordan. (The very nonfictional Jordan is still alive today, as is his Westside establishment.)

Coincidentally, Giancana gets an urge for a late-night feed. When he arrives on the scene, tensions fly high. Giancana's gripe? The Kennedy machine's shabby treatment of campaign stalwart Frank Sinatra.

The opening and closing reminiscences of the present-day Matty seem unnecessary and awkward. But once into the full swing of the flashback narrative, Perilli raises some fascinating questions about the corrupting nature of power, licit or otherwise.

Robert Lane directs his small, strong cast with naturalistic economy. Still, a few flaws mar this provocative production. John Allore, a likable JFK, slips occasionally into Chicago wise-guy mode. Effectively avuncular as Matty, Steve Restivo) has a few line lapses early on. As the coarse, cunning Giancana, Tom Babuscio is terrific . . . but ponderous in his pauses. Altogether, Perilli's play is rich, gossipy--and ultimately chilling.

* "Last Call," Gardner Stage, 1501 N. Gardner St., Hollywood. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends July 28. $10. (213) 878-5681. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.

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