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Drugs, Fires and Murder in New York: Welcome to Life on the Street in 1975

The Lombardi Case is superb street theater mystery. On the murder mystery level it is extremely well put together. The teams of detectives get a half dozen stories from each witness and plenty of denials from all the suspects. You think you have a scenario figured out and then it falls apart. You think you’ve got the killer and then new evidence changes the course of the investigation. The end, when the killer is named, is explosive.

On the history level, this case is a gem. Everything about it, from the clothing to the demeanor of the cops, smacks of the mid-1970s. I worked in New York then and remember the era well. The Live IN Theater replicated it nicely. There are cops with their shirt buttons sloppily undone, sassy hookers, snoopy neighbors and, in the station house, the whine of the police siren to keep things real.

There are constant reminders of 1975. A cop watched the Barney Miller Show on TV last night. Someone was going to see the movie Jaws that night. The police grumbled endlessly about the budget cuts that made their job tough. Hookers complained about their pimps.

Another benefit to these street theater shows is that you get to tour the streets of Little Italy and can peek into all of its quaint shops, café restaurants, crowded bars and admire its 150-year-old buildings. It’s a travel trip slid into the murder mystery.

Director Carlo D’Amore, who also wrote the play, did a fine job of staging the show over much of Little Italy and leaving everybody in suspense until the station house end. He got fine performances from Tom Staggs as Chief Patrick Miller, Walt DeForest as Sgt. Lawrence O’Donelly, Vic Pagan as Jesus, Sri Gordon as Trixy, Ricardo Perez as Manny, Rachel Brown as Claire Lombardi, Colin Blackard as Emil.

The Live IN Theater also stages The Ryan Case, about an 1873 murder (reviewed here last spring) and will open a case involving 1930s bootlegging in September.