Say Your Prayers, Mug!
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
October 5, 2007
I remember when I was a kid (a long time ago: in the 1960s) there was mid-afternoon movie on a local TV channel, hosted by some colorless, corny local TV personality, whose target audience was presumably the stay-at-home housewife (or, perhaps, her maid), offering a lousy and forgotten old film in between lots of commercials and announcements—entertainment just demanding enough to take one's mind off the vacuuming.
Well, if you're nostalgic for that kind of old-timey hokey movie-on-TV show, then Todd Michael's new play Say Your Prayers, Mug! is for you. It's a loving tribute to this weird hybrid of tacky movie and tackier live TV, as well as a parody of both. Michael is playwright, director, and star, appearing in drag as Dotty Haines, co-host of "Sunrise Cinema," an early-morning show that mixes movies that wished they could be called B-list with the hucksterish sensibility of a vintage Today show. Skip Rayburn, Dotty's co-host and husband, is all plastic insincerity as embodied by the excellent Thom Brown. Their banter, live ads for irregularity medicine and miracle reducers, and hokey phone contests all ring deliciously and humorously true.
Today's film is a chestnut called "Say Your Prayers, Mug!," a gangster flick from the mid-'30s featuring a maverick cop named Gargan who is in love with a nightclub chanteuse named Platinum Kane. Platinum works for mobster Sonny Rocco, the man who sold her brother Lefty up the river. (Gargan, of course, was the detective who sent Lefty to Sing-Sing.) When Lefty escapes from prison, none of these folks is safe.
Michael nails the dialogue of these very familiar types—most of their lines are spot-on, loaded with the vividly awful metaphors that were Hollywood's idea of tough-guy-speak in the '30s. He also successfully condenses a complicated plot into a very brief running time (the whole of Say Your Prayers, Mug! runs about an hour, including all of Skip and Dotty's frequent cut-ins).
Where Michael is less effective is in delineating some of the characters in his script: the spoof might be sharper if the participants were more individualized and particular rather than simply types. Sonny Rocco, for example, feels like George Raft sometimes, and like Edward G. Robinson other times; I think he'd be a funnier character if he were either one or the other. Michael's pacing is also a little slack at times; short as it is, Say Your Prayers, Mug! could move even more quickly.
But the jokes come at us pretty much non-stop and the ambience is relaxed and cheerful: it would be tough not to have a good time at this show. The cast is generally pretty good, with Jimmy Blackman (Gargan), Jill Yablon (Platinum), and Sarah Bunker (Kitty De Villiers, Sonny's girlfriend) especially good; Ryan Stadler is perhaps the standout, doing double duty as Sonny and, hilariously, as Postman Pierre in a very funny and very silly segment of "Sunrise Cinema."
All in all, a pleasant evening with twin doses of nostalgia—one hearkening back to Hollywood's Golden Age, the other to TV's. A good time is had, I think, by all.