By Barbara Malinsky / Photos courtesy Kenny D’Aquila
Kenny D’Aquila recently grabbed Hollywood’s attention with the debut of his play Unorganized Crime that garnered rave reviews. His journey from Old Saybrook, Connecticut to Hollywood, California is a drama in itself.
He heeded the call that beckons artists to do whatever it takes to pursue their aspirations. That inner voice is a mystery, an unexplainable phenomenon. A four-year-old child sees a cello and says, “I want to do that.” A young boy may be unwillingly brought to his sister’s ballet class and says, “I want to do that too.” Another child plays hooky from school to draw cartoons all day. It happens so often that you ponder whether the child is already born with the muse ready to be released by some engaging experience.
D’Aquila started life in a typical family household with his parents and three brothers. He attended Old Saybrook Elementary School where he excelled in football. As an eighth grader, he rushed for 16 touchdowns in 8 games and was named the team’s Most Valuable Player. He continued to pursue football at Xavier High School as team captain but an injury ended a promising sports career. It was then that he began to participate in the school’s theatrical productions – West Side Story, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and others. In college, the spell was firmly cast when he auditioned for several plays and got every role but when he decided to change majors, his parents disapproved. He then worked as a machinist at C. J. Bates and Son factory in Chester, Connecticut for about a year and saved $900. He left his family to migrate to Hollywood to pursue a career as an actor and screenwriter.
When he arrived there, he made ends meet by waiting tables. “It takes a lot of courage to pursue this business. You have to be strong to take the rejection. You get to hear ‘no’ more than ‘yes’. If you don’t like ‘no’, find something else. I’ve probably waited on more tables than any other actor in history but I had to take care of my family.”
Soon he was cast in a number of musicals including Godspell, Camelot, the Fantastiks, and Jesus Christ Superstar. Soon a larger role came his way – Les Miserables’ Grantaire directed by Trevor Nunn and John Caird. He was then asked to participate in the International Album of Les Miserables and won critical praise for his rendition of Grantaire. “Nothing gets my heart beating faster than hearing the orchestra starting to play with 1,500 people in the audience. There are so many emotions going through you. When I’m backstage I need to be alone for at least five minutes before I go on.”
D’Aquila is also a screenwriter; his first play Uptown (1990) won 8 Drama-League Awards and was nominated for Best Play by the LA Drama Critics. “After my first play, my father looked me in the eyes and said, ‘ I’m so proud of you!’ and I could see in his eyes that I had made it. That was a very powerful thing for me.”
He then married and had a son so he left show business to focus on fatherhood although he continued to work as a waiter. Sadly, his father succumbed to cancer and the once close-knit Italian-American family that D’Aquila grew up with started to fall apart. He was deeply affected by how his family members lost faith in one another and wrote about it thematically in his newest play Unorganized Crime set in a Mafia environment.
The play and its message turned out to be the turning point in D’Aquila’s career as he re-entered show business as both writer and actor. “Alfred Hitchcock said that you can do three things with an audience – make them laugh, cry or scare them. My play does all three in a totally different way.”
He knew noted actor Chazz Palminteri as a friend but never approached him professionally. This time, he asked him to read the script. Palminteri called back several days later saying, “What are you doing working in a restaurant? This is one of the best plays I ever read.” He wanted to help D’Aquila the same way that Robert De Niro helped him with A Bronx Tale, a partly autobiographical drama.
In 1989, Chazz Palminteri debuted his one-man show A Bronx Tale at a small theater on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. The modest play would later catch the attention of Robert De Niro, who subsequently made it into a feature film that helped propel Palminteri’s screen career. He believes in paying it forward. D’Aquila’s play reminded him of himself years ago when De Niro helped him. “After I opened my play, it just took over Hollywood and became a phenomenon.”
“I don’t know if D’Aquila’s play will be like that. It would be pretty amazing if it did. After opening night, the reaction was incredible.” The play drew sold-out audiences and drew praise from Los Angeles theatre critics across the board, including rave reviews from the Hollywood Reporter, Broadway World, and the Los Angeles Times.
Unorganized Crime has a small cast of 4 principal characters – Chazz Palminteri (Sal Sicuso – older brother), Elizabeth Rodriguez (Rosie – Gino’s wife), Kenny D’Aquila (Gino – brother), and Carmen Argenziano (Carmelo – father). D’Aquila’s own family breakdown is the basis for the dissolution of this fictitious family. Gino Sicuso, a forgotten brother and son, is banished to Detroit by his father. Sal, a menacing mobster, turns up one day at Gino’s doorstep. What transpires is a gripping, savage, and wildly humorous tale between two brothers and the love of a woman who is torn between loyalty and survival. The family dynamics could take place in any American family today. The reviews were praiseworthy.
Sal: This is your last chance. Whatever happened in the past is the past. What’s important is right here, right now. It’s all about what’s in front of you at this moment. You understand?
Gino: I do
Sal: Where are you?
Gino: I’m right here
Sal: Right here. In the moment. The two of us. Yes?
Gino: I’m so ‘right here’ I forgot what you just said.
Rosie: I believed you. I stuck by you. I was the only one. I WAS THE ONLY ONE. … Doesn’t that mean anything? … You say we’re perfect for each other. I believe that. I do. Now. I’m begging you. Show me how much you love me. Show me.
Now D’Aquila has teamed up with Palminteri by creating and writing a new television series based on D’Aquila’s play. They are presently producing the promotional pilot of Unorganized Crime that will be shot this summer. The cast includes Chazz Palminteri, Jennifer Tilly, Mark Margolis, and Kenny D’Aquila.
D’Aquila may just be in the right place at the right time now for this to be a huge success. Everything is good. On March 21, his son Louis Corbett D’Aquila became the 2016 City of Los Angeles Junior golf Champion. He is planning a visit to Connecticut to reconnect with his past. “You know, there’s a West Coast and East Coast but God created the East Coast first. Old Saybrook is where it all started.” visit: www.unorganizedcrimetheplay.com