Almost Made is a one-man show in which Louie Liberti plays more than a dozen characters, but this show is no parlor trick. It is a moving tribute and one heck of a journey, as well as a cardiovascular workout for this actor, who works up a real sweat while divulging conflicted emotions in portraying his flawed father's life. Liberti, who developed the piece with Mark Travis, grew up in Queens under the thumb of his father, who never quite achieved the success he desired. As a teenager, Liberti began working in the "family"-run club, privy to, but often turning a blind eye toward, his father's machinations with the mob. What's more, his father, whom Liberti idolized, never rose to become a "made" man (hence the play's title) and eventually sank into substance abuse. Rocked by his father's misfortunes, Liberti then went to Los Angeles to make a new life for himself, yet ended up making many of the same mistakes, falling into drugs and getting arrested.
Even so, Almost Made is no mere "sins of the father" story. Liberti may have made similar mistakes, but he always distinguishes the two men, particularly in showing the son's frustration with his father and home life, and his shame in letting everybody, including himself, down.
Almost deals with much of Liberti's life, and he is to be commended for covering so much ground. He not only portrays many pivotal people in his life, including the mobsters whose ranks his father aspired to join, but does so over nearly two decades, a remarkable measure of both the actor's depth and his range. Highlights include his early, on-the-job fumbles and, much later, his anguished phone calls home from jail cells in Los Angeles.
His standout moments, though, occur in his depiction of the young teen's first pangs of puppy love; here, the actor gracefully darts back and forth between the son's embarrassment and the father's taunting. It is astonishing to watch, and a testament to Liberti's ability to make the emotions of each of his characters palpable as they rise easily to the surface.
Structurally, the play's conceit seems unnecessary: Liberti arrives back on the East Coast after his father's death to eulogize him, thus allowing his trip down memory lane. He occasionally interrupts the chapters of his life by returning to the eulogy, then goes back to his past. This format is fine from a functional standpoint, but director D.W. Brown could have served the story just as well by staging the action in a linear way. Occasionally, Liberti gets a tad caught up in the story's action; though one can always tell which character is talking, it is sometimes hard to figure out exactly what is happening at the moment. In particular, the action that takes place at his father's nightclub begins to feel redundant.
Still, Almost Made is in so many ways an honest, cathartic experience, providing a harrowing journey into one man's life, that most criticism seems quite trivial. In performing his show, Liberti proves himself to be an outstanding talent and, more important, honors his family's decisions and sacrifices. In doing so, his father may have given him the greatest gift of all.