By Ann Firestone Ungar

David Proval and Vincent Pastore in "Queen for a Day"; Photo By Russ Rowland

David Proval and Vincent Pastore in “Queen for a Day”; Photo By Russ Rowland

A Queen for a Day is a skillfully written, directed, and acted gangland drama set in a deserted warehouse in New Jersey in winter 2011.

“In the American legal system ‘queen for a day’ refers to written documents that are designed to create a potentially mutually beneficial arrangement with the federal government and a person of interest regarding a criminal investigation.”  So says the Urban Dictionary.  The documents are called a proffer agreement.  The person of interest says he/she will give the government legally useful information about another person of interest in exchange for immunity from prosecution, or a lesser sentence.  That agreement makes the squealer a Queen for a Day.  The expression comes to us from an old TV show of that name.  The show featured women, usually housewives, in desperate situations, telling their life stories.  The audience, through its applause, would determine who was in the most dire straits.  That woman would then win a prize which helped alleviate her problem, thus becoming Queen for a Day.  Whoever coined the expression for the signer of a proffer agreement certainly had a sense of humor.

The play at hand is described by the playwright, Michael Ricigliano, Jr., as follows.  “…shortly after the largest coordinated sweep of organized crime in history, Nino Cinquimani (David Proval)  , a captain in NY’s Costa Crime Family, finds himself in the bowels of a New Jersey warehouse.  Seated with his attorney, Sanford (David Deblinger), Nino has reluctantly agreed to a secret “proffer session” with US Prosecutor, Patricia Cole (Portia).  He is there to speak about his younger brother, Pasquale (Vincent Pastore), the acting boss of his “Family.”  As he struggles with the life altering decision to break the sacred vows of La Cosa Nostra, Nino delves into his Brooklyn upbringing, personal demons and ultimately the reason why he agrees to become A Queen for A Day.”

Most central to the drama are Nino’s struggles: to sign or not to sign the proffer agreement, his painful revelations about his brother, Pasquale, his fond and deeply-felt memories about his Italian childhood with its significant traditions, his relationships with his mother, father, mother’s caretaker later in her life, and his own closely held personal story – these drive the action forward.  This is a character drama with numerous turns in the story’s road; the theater audience is required to stay with many details as the lawyer and the prosecutor protect and prod Nino.

It’s not possible to discuss the plot because this critic would certainly be a spoiler many times over.  Suffice it to say that who is whom is at issue; the truth about Nino and Pasquale’s past, their devotion to family, their overwhelming need for self-preservation, and the place of love in all of this are explored in a tale of the complexity of human behavior.  It’s a situation where the best and the worst must or must not co-exist.  Reputation, pride, self-loathing, freedom, and the weight of betrayal all figure into A Queen for a Day.

And then there’s the gun.

The action takes place in a big, high, gray box-of-a-set, a room which looms like the confessional box in which the characters find themselves.  A table, a desk, and a water cooler complete the picture by Andreea Mincic  and serve the play well, as do the unobtrusive costumes by Bobby Frederick Tilley, and the brooding lighting by Isabella E. Bry.

Organically directed by John Gould Rubin, “A Queen for a Day” is a strong, nicely claustrophobic journey through the criminal underground.  The playwright, Mr. Ricigliano, Jr., was a lawyer prior to his drama career, and he weaves a logical argument here.  It’s certainly bleak and tragic, a bit more than just melodrama.  This critic was happy to leave the theater finally and walk into the sunlight and breeze on a spring day in Manhattan.

A QUEEN FOR A DAY – Written by Michael Ricigliano, Jr., directed by John Gould Rubin

WITH: David Deblinger (Sanford Weiss, Esq.), Vincent Pastore (Pasquale Cinquimani), Portia (Patricia Cole), David Proval (Giovanni “Nino” Cinquimani), and Richard O’Brien (Sally “The Enforcer”).  Understudies: Richard O’Brien (Sanford, Pasquale, Giovanni) and Arie Thompson (Patricia).

Scenic design by Andreea Mincic; costume design by Bobby Frederick Tilley, lighting design by Isabella  F. Byrd; sound design by Leon Rothenberg; special effects design by Arielle Toelke; casting by Jack Doulin and Sharky Casting; fight director, J. Steven White; production stage manager Erin Cass; production manager, Libby Jensen; general manager, Cheryl Dennis; company manager, Dan Gallagher; produced by Jackson Leonard Productions and Jeff Schneider; associate producers, Steve Acunto, Max Wyman and Ric Zivic. At Theatre at St.Clement’s, 423 West 46 Street, New York, NY; tickets at or Ovationtix (866-811-4111) May 3 – July 26, 2015.  Running time 1 hour, 30 minutes.