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|A CurtainUp Review
Filumina-- a Marriage Italian Style
Eduardo DeFilippo's romantic comedy, Filumena, is as old as its eponymous heroine is supposed to be (51). It begins with a marriage of manipulation between a middle-aged ex-prostitute and the wealthy, philandering lover and erstwhile John with whom she's shared a Naples villa for twenty-five stormy years. A pretend deathbed marriage, (off-stage and before the play begins) threatens to put a coffin lid on the relationship. But, as Filumena fails to conveniently die and leave Domenico free to pursue the young nurse in attendance during Filumena' not so fatal illness the relationship isn't quite yet in its death throes. This is after all a romantic comedy. And being comedy written before economics dictated minimal casts, we have eight other characters who include the nurse, her lawyer, Filumena's sons and the requisite servants to serve up extra dashes of humor. The setting is, of course, Naples where the foliage is lush, the music is sweet and villas are drenched with Neapolitan sun.
Undoubtedly the 1946 Naples premiere raised some eyebrows at DeFilippo's comedic take on this unconventional and socially mismatched pair. However, the play has long stopped being daring and its endurance is based more on its Neapolitan flavor than any justifiable claim as a classic. The comedy's two Broadway runs, ( the most recent in 1980, directed by Laurence Olivier and starring Joan Plowright), have been eclipsed by the 1964 hit movie, Marriage Italian Style, and the character of Filumena has become almost irretrievably linked with the on screen mega star, Sophia Loren.
Thus for a live Filumena to sizzle once again, (at least in this country where DiFillipo is not as revered as in Italy), calls for a high wattage actress to give the part her own stamp. Happily the Blue Light Theater Company's just opened revival at its 1997-98 home on West 55th Street boasts just such a star in Maria Tucci.
She inhabits Filumena as completely as she did the New York writer and academic she portrayed so perfectly in her last season's Collected Stories, (Our Review). As she was that eccentric and demanding woman in that serious drama, she is the feisty, angry Filumena who has never cried, at least not before Domenico, and at the same time a loving and vulnerable woman. Even as she seethes with disdain for all men, and Domenico in particular, we sense the underlying attraction that has kept her his chatelaine all those years.
As soon as Ms. Tucci in a smashing black satin slip and red robe, (by Marion Williams), steps onto the balcony of the gorgeous sun drenched villa, (designed by Hugh Landwehr and brightly lit by Rui Rita), we know we are in the presence of a woman whose every look and gesture say she could be a queen as easily as a prostitute. Before she utters a word, we sense her power and her hurt and we know that as she will emerge triumphant -- both in the story and as its star.
And so Sophia Loren fades away.
Tony Amendola as Filumen'as lover struts and preens with flair but never quite obliterates visions of Marcelo Mastroianni who played the willing lover but unwilling husband in the movie. His frustration with his fiery mistress-housekeeper is convincing from his opening rant to such accusations as "You're like a termite eating me up from the inside". However, he fails to give us the sense of the sexual and emotional pull underneath the anger and macho. Thus the inevitable turnaround comes off as more manufactured than real. The Mediterranean charm is most visible in a delightful moment during the encore -- after the play ends.
Director James Naughton smoothly directs the creditable ensemble who support the two main players. The two servants played by Mary Fogarty and Joe Grifasi give the strongest performances. Of the three sons, Lenny Venito is the most endearing and in touch with his character though all three are amusing during the final act when each reveals himelf as possible chip of the old block. The ins and outs of the plot are kept moving at a brisk enough pace but in the final analysis, the evening's biggest plus is Maria Tucci and the disappointments stem from the play itself. The villa, (which is actually a moved house from this production's 1996 incarnation at the Williamstown Theatre Fetival), and garden are appealing enough to make anyone yearn for a sojourn in Naples and in just such a house. The play, even with Ms. Tucci's lively translation, simply doesn't have the pizazz and freshness to warrant another go-round.