“Part of it is based on my father, who is a con artist,” Cucciniello says of her father.
“I didn't know until he was arrested and put away, when I was 10,” she says.
“My mother says he was Santa Claus; he was Disney World; he was able to provide this life for me, when I was young, that I never would have experienced, because of the riches he stole.”
Ralph Cucciniello was arrested in 1996 on charges of “bilking several people, including the mother of a woman he ended up marrying briefly, and a priest,” according to an article in the Newark Courant that ran in May, 2007, after he was re-arrested, this time for posing as a Yale Law School professor with an expertise in immigration law, and scamming “hundreds of undocumented workers from Ireland into thinking he could secure them a green card – for a $5,000 fee,” the paper reported.
“My senior project in college was based on this,” Cucciniello says of her father's larcenous exploits, “and one of my acting teachers said, 'You know, it's interesting that you're an actor – you have storytelling in your genes.'”
Cucciniello has put a lot of thought into the differences (and similarities) between the two professions.
“Acting is actually telling the truth,” she says, whereas “in terms of con artists, they're really telling a story – and living that story.
“Theater,” she further explains, “is about putting yourself in the situation, and believing it.
“I do have this in my blood,” she says, of her career as a storyteller, “for better or worse, but I've chosen to do good with it, rather than to go to jail.”
Rather than dwell on her own life experiences, Cucciniello tapped playwright Sarah Cancher and director Jen Wineman to work with SquidShow on an investigation of cons down through the ages, so that the show references other con artists, including a French con artist “known as 'the Chameleon,' for whom getting caught is the high,” she says, and a group of Quaker spiritualists, the Fox sisters, “who talked to spirits, and stuff, and made a ton of money doing what they were doing.” There’s also a Renaissance pope who sold papal indulgences “signed by him; if you sinned, you could buy a papal indulgence that was essentially a 'Get Out of Hell Free' card,” she says.
“We make the distinction that, while all con artists are actors,” she says, of the play, “theatrical actors are not con artists.”
For the show, she says, “I just gave them my story to be played with.
“We researched the history of con, and what it means to be this type of person. Everyone in the cast” researched and developed “a con artist they connected with, and we went from there. Since the beginning of time,” she observes, “there have been cons.”
Of her relationship with her father, Cucciniello says, “I haven't talked to him since I was 10.”
Of the play, which she began work on six years ago, with Gancher, her longtime collaborator, but then shelved, she says it represents an attempt “for me to try to understand this person in my life.”
Gancher has been in town these last few weeks working with SquidShow throughout the rehearsal process on what Cucciniello describes as now a full-fledged “created-from-scratch theatrical extravaganza,” alongside Wineman and designer Melissa Trn.”
SquidShow Theatre, known for its site-specific original work, is, according to a press release about the production, “thrilled to be utilizing the historic Nugget Theatre, putting live theatre back in the vaudeville house.”
’Con: A Play About Liars’ shows Thursday, July 28-Monday, Aug. 1, at 8:30 p.m., at the Nugget Theatre. It is free and open to the public; a hat will be passed for donations. It is not suitable for children.