'Chinese Coffee,' Starring Al Pacino, Arrives on Broadway
Jun. 29, 1992
NEW YORK (AP) _ It hasn't been a good week for Al Pacino on Broadway.
First, he stumbled in ''Salome,'' an ill-advised revival of Oscar Wilde's impossible potboiler, and now he's trapped in ''Chinese Coffee,'' a turgid two-character contrivance by a little-known playwright named Ira Lewis.
The productions are running in repertory at Circle in the Square. ''Chinese Coffee'' closes July 15 and ''Salome'' July 23.
''Chinese Coffee'' lets Pacino play Pacino, or at least the Pacino that his fans expect. He's the feisty little guy - tough, a bit of a loudmouth, but appealing.
The actor prowls the stage like a boxer, jabbing, feinting and backtracking, anything to give the impression that the play has some momentum. It doesn't.
Pacino portrays a not very successful novelist confronting middle-age and the fact that he may never amount to much. The writer argues with his best friend, played with gruff likability by the beefy, blustery Charles Cioffi. The buddy is an equally unsuccessful photographer.
At first, the two men fight over money and whether the friend actually has read a copy of the author's latest manuscript.
Gradually, the real reason for their disagreement becomes known. The writer has lifted some material from the photographer's life for this unpublished book. The photographer is hurt and lashes back at his pal. The men spar for a long 90 minutes, but nothing is ever resolved in this conflict over life vs. art.
Arvin Brown acts more as a referee than a director, keeping the actors apart so they can deliver their verbal blows with the greatest impact.
Pacino and Cioffi are well-matched opponents, but their mudslinging becomes tiresome. Eventually, one of them walks out the door. By then, the audience doesn't care. They have long since given up on the fight.
What other critics said:
Mel Gussow, The New York Times: ''Chinese Coffee'' is a small, naturalistic two-character play, scarcely more than a one-act sketch. Just as Mr. Pacino enlivens ''Salome'' with his presence, he is so intense in ''Chinese Coffee'' that he almost makes the work seem worthy of his talent. The actor has found a part but not a play.
Howard Kissel, Daily News: It is admirable that Pacino has interrupted his movie career to do this play and ''Salome'' in repertory. In both he exhibits his gift for the quirky and his formidable energy, but neither repays his investment; neither suggests the range of his talent or intelligence.
Clive Barnes, New York Post: ''Chinese Coffee'' is slight but not weak. ... (Pacino's) performance transcends performance because he doesn't act in the normal way of acting. He takes a stage and fills it with himself - and if any film director could find a way of harnessing that possessed sense of possession to a camera, it would make a deathless movie. Meanwhile, the theater, oddly enough for a movie star, remains Pacino's truest element. Welcome home.