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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
Italian American Reconciliation
By Elyse Sommer
Oh, that crumbling Fourth Wall! I've lost count of the plays which this past season alone have torn aside that traditional wall said to separate actors from audience. (See link at end to our end of '98 roundup's section on this subject).
Now, Barrington Stage has brought us a one-man Greek chorus named Aldo Scalicki (Anthony Grasso) -- a macho Italian-American mama's boy in black blended threads , a bright yellow tie and the best of two worldsd fingers that keep frenetic pace with his rapid fire warmup routine. It starts with Aldo striding down the aisle to ask the people in the front rows "How ya doin'?" By the time he's said "hi" to mom, (a make-believe audience member), and sent a former girl friend, (a shill ), stalking out of her aisle seat the audience has laughed away every trace of that mythical wall and Aldo is ready to take his place as a participant in his friend Huey Maximillian Bonfigliano's (Robert DeBlasio) story.
It's a slight enough story to sum up in a few sentences: Huey's been divorced for three years from Janice (Marisa Redanty), who brought him nothing but "heartbreak, screaming, bad food and a dead dog." But despite the zip gun which killed the dog and very nearly Huey himself and a relationship with the less over the top (at least compared to Janice) Teresa (Antoinette LaVecchia), Huey is convinced that only by reconciling with Janice will his manhood be restored to him. The dramatic arc , such as it is, revolves around Aldo's scheme to save his friend from the reconciliation by seducing the volatile Janice (who hates him).
If the operatic strains heard at the beginning of several scenes, the Little Italy setting and the dysfunctional romantic lives of these character remind you a little of John Patrick Shanley's big movie hit, Moonstruck, you're not too far off base. In fact, there is a full moon hanging over the second act scene during which Janice has moments of looking and sounding like Cher, and the play's most likeable and endearingly portrayed character, Aunt May (Barbara Caruso) has much in common with the Cher's mother in that movie (played by Olympia Dukakis).
But for all the similarities Reconciliation leans too heavily on Aldo's continued wisecracking asides and Aunt May's philosophizing to capture Moonstruck's magical romantic flavor. What's worse the moon doesn't do its work. Fr a short time it seems to light the path for Aldo and Janice to cut through the hurts that have made them enemies since grade school. There's enough potential romantic tension to turn their farcical balcony scene into something to go with that song that goes "When the moon hits your eye, like a big-a-pizza pie - that's amore!" But then the light fades and fizzles and the promise of the moon turns into a spoof of Gone With the Wind.
Since Reconciliation doesn't quite cut it as a bittersweet comedy romance, you might say it works better as a more gritty, Seinfeldian take on modern relationships -- a downtown, ethnic version of a drawing room comedy. In some ways it does. Beneath the outlandishness of Huey's 17th century artisan's shirt, Aldo's fingers fluttering like so many crazed birds and Janice's Annie-get-your-zipgun explosiveness there's much of the likeable ordinariness that made Seinfeld and friends household words.
As long as I'm quibbling about the play, I'd like to say that what we have here is a script that doesn't match the actors' talents. However, the performances, while good, are not all-around standouts. Anthony Grasso is terrific as the fast-talking, commitment shy Romeo and comedy club cum host-narrator but less so as the more serious hurt little boy who never cut mama's apron strings. While director Ruggiero is to be commended for keeping Huey from acting too crazed this seems to make Robert diBlassio totally dependent on his therapeutically donned seventeenth century poet's costume and more mundane than memorable.
Since the women's roles are more important in terms of their effect on the relationship between Aldo and Huey, Antoinette LaVecchia's Teresa and Marisa Redanty are more or less second bananas to the men. The excellent Barbara Caruso makes the best of a gratuitously preachy, anti-climactic final scene.
To the credit of the play, the performers and the director, none of the Italian-American stereotypes are ever offensive. And yet this pizza would have been crisper with a soupçon less tomato sauce. Steven Capone's clever sliding and rotating set give the play a sense of spaciousness and movement. There's an artist's atelier flavor to Huey's walkup apartment. The restaurant where Teresa works is nicely grounded in reality. The balcony scene amusingly evokes visions of Romeo and Juliet, and when Huey joins Aldo and Janice, Cyrano and Roxanne. Peg Carbonneau's costumes also add greatly to the fun.
This ten year-old play has had numerous regional productions since its Manhattan Theatre Club debut. It's neither John Patrick Shanley's best stage play (Four Dogs and a Bone and Psychopathia Sexualis were much more incisive) or his worst (that honor goes to Missing/Kissing). Shanley provides just enough of his trademark caustically funny dialogue and nutty yet real characterizations to make for a pleasant two hours.