They say there are no truly new stories; just retellings of a handful of classic themes, or in the case of “The Centurion,” playing at Roger Williams University over the next two weekends, a retelling of an old story to a new audience.
“The Centurion” is the story of Robert Leuci, a former NYPD narcotics detective who made headlines exposing corruption in the in the early 1970’s, bringing his own unit—and many of his own colleagues—down. The play is based on Leuci’s memoir “All the Centurions”, and the stage adaptation was co-written and produced by Barrington attorney and writer Arlene Violet. Jeffrey Martin, chairman of Roger Williams University’s Department of Performing Arts, directs.
Leuci graduated from the New York City Police Academy at the age of twenty-one, young and idealistic. At 24 he began downing undercover work with the Narcotics Bureau soon advancing to the Special Investigative Unit, an elite team of top detectives charged with targeting major sources of drug distribution, building cases against foreign drug cartels.
Corruption was rampant at the SIU, and the early 1970’s saw the establishment of the Knapp Commission to investigate. Believing Leuci to be one of the few honest detectives, officials tapped him to investigate from the inside, which he did for two years. Former colleagues were imprisoned, and some even committed suicide.
But Leuci was not innocent—he was corrupt as well.
“The Centurion” is the story of Leuci’s transition from wide-eyed idealist to his slide down a slippery ethical slope. There are two characters—the Centurion and his younger self, played by Brien Lang and Matthew Royality-Lindman, respectively—and it’s a pull-no-punches examination of a man fighting with his own conscience.
Today, Leuci is a writer, south county resident and URI professor who occasionally speaks to audiences of officers about how easily, and imperceptibly, this reality of ethical erosion can set in.
Martin directed the show’s brief run in Manhattan last year, and for this reprisal has made an effort to pare the set down to, essentially, 2 actors and 2 chairs—something that stands dramatically on its own two feet while being eminently portable and producable. “Bob and Arlene are both great,” Martin says. “Very generous, very fun to work with.”
Still, the biggest challenge for Martin may have been the ambiguously autobiographical nature of the story. “It’s not clear if this is Bob’s life, or a story based on Bob’s life.” The distinction would come into focus from time to time, like in Manhattan last year when, realizing that one of the characters mentioned would likely turn up to see the show, Leuci and Martin made a last-minute name change. “I named him after my dog,” Martin said, Or, as Violet said, referencing her 2012 production “The Family,” about the Italian mafia in Providence, “names were changed to protect the guilty.”
Where: RWU Performing Arts Center, 1 Old Ferry Road, Bristol
When: 7:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, June 27 and 28; Thursday through Saturday, July 10-12
Cost: $10 general admission; $5 for students and seniors
More info: 401/254-3666