THEATER | “Corleone”: Some day, Gremlin Theatre may call upon thee to do a service. Until that day, thou mayest accept this production as a gift.


Gangsters get the geek treatment in Corleone: The Shakespearean Godfather, in which Shakespeare nerds take revenge on the kingpin of mob stories. Writer and director David Mann sets the entire first Godfather novel in the world of Shakespeare. The play was such a big hit at the Minnesota and New York Fringe Festivals that Mann turned it into a full-length play.

corleone, playing through december 13 at gremlin theatre. for tickets ($20) and information, see

A small cast of players are recycled on a minimal set throughout the production, which, intermission included, remains under two hours—shaving off an hour from the Coppola version. Some of the cast recycling is funny in itself, like Bruce Hyde’s prompt return to the stage as the priest christening Connie’s son, shortly after the death of his first role, Vito Corleone. The story is condensed by narrating several scenes from the story. Most of the sex and violence occurs offstage, as it would in Shakespeare.

The most outrageous script-flipping occurs with the infamous horse-head scene, where, after refusing to cast Jonny Fontane in a leading role, movie mogul Jack Woltz wakes up smeared in his prized horse’s blood. In Mann’s version, servants squabble over delivering a red-painted horse head, which is quickly greeted by a shrill scream from an off-stage room, providing the audience with humor, rather than horror. Many of the film’s most dramatic moments are comically lightened as such, channeling a Shakespearean. An oft-used line, “I made him an offer he couldn’t refuse,” is greeted with laughter, treated as an inside joke between cast and audience.

When mob members discuss how and by what means Michael should execute Sollozo and McCluskey, a medley of Shakespearean weapons-of-choice are contemplated, including a poisoned pearl or sword tip (Hamlet), as well as means of murder, like a tongue slicing (The Merchant of Venice). One player enthusiastically offers, “Let’s bake them in a pie and serve it to their mothers as a gift.” (Titus Andronicus)

The only onstage violence occurs with the killing of Sonny, who is portrayed by Gremlin Theatre’s artistic director, Peter Christian Hansen (he later doubles as Moe Greene). Sonny is killed in slow motion by a group of sword-wielding thugs, and soon discovered by father Vito. An interesting scene change then occurs: as Sonny remains dead onstage, Michael enters the stage with Apollonia, twisting the atmosphere into the fairytale-like atmosphere of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The couple share a Midsummer-like exchange, with Michael professing, “My heart was wakened by a thunderbolt,” only to have Apollonia dumbly replying, “it was sunny on that day.” The scene again morphs as the two are interrupted by the rising of Sonny’s ghost, who instructs Michael to “Mark me,” begging his brother to avenge his death, Hamlet-style.

One thug ponders to another, “‘Tis a puzzle, ‘tis a puzzle,” as their attempt to kill Vito in the hospital is halted when the pair discover a monk guarding the Godfather, mistaking it as a sign from God. The moral of Mann’s retelling remains in tune with Puzo’s; these men are but men, though behave as gods, and face many moral and philosophical dilemmas in assuming such powerful roles. The audience is treated to a series of asides throughout Corleone, describing the humanity of these characters in a manner completely Shakespearean, and yet complementary, to the masterpiece that inspired it.

This event is featured in the Daily Planet’s complete guide to holiday theater. Throughout the holiday season, the guide will be updated with links to new Daily Planet reviews—so you know who’s been naughty and who’s been nice.