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A CurtainUp Review
The Sweepers
by Macey Levin

The Sweepers
The Sweepers Cast
Writer John C. Picardi has embarked on a 10 play series dramatizing the Italian-American experience through each decade of the 20th century, something similar to August Wilson's cycle on the Black experience. Picardi's first play, The Sweepers, a comedy-drama currently at Urban Stages, is set in Boston's Italian-populated North End during the last weeks of World War II.

Three women who have grown up together are the prisms that reflect the effects of the war on the close-knit and often parochial community. Mary and Dotty's husbands and sons have seen combat, but Bella's boy Sonny has been classified 4-F due to a heart murmur; he has continued in law school becoming the first college graduate in the neighborhood. Sonny is about to marry Karen whose Italian Catholic family lives in the affluent Wellesley, but to the three women, she is "not from the neighborhood," in more than mere geography.

The women's reactions and involvement with the war effort are one of the major plot threads. Another is the focus on the young couple's relationship and the old-fashioned display of the marriage bedsheet to demonstrate the bride's purity. There are numerous references that everything is about to change on all levels from Sonny's marriage to the world's entrance into the atomic age. The foundation of these plot lines is the relationship among the three women…an amalgam of support, love and antagonism.

The plot lines evolve in a logical manner, but sometimes the seams show via abrupt transitions from one story to the other. Picardi's dialogue, including neighborhood and historical references, i.e. Morey Pearl's restaurant, ration stamps, the collecting of tin cans, newspapers and old tires for the war effort, lend verisimilitude to the drama. The ending of the play is antic-climactic. One plot ends on a high emotional plane; the other, with a series of dramatic revelations, is then forced to be resolved with histrionic dialogue and acting.

Though the play is enjoying its second run after a series of readings, it is still in need of some judicious pruning. The repeated references to the marriage sheet border on the ludicrous, and the last scenes could be simpler and less melodramatic.

The mercurial Bella as played by Dana Smith is vibrant and angry, but subtleties are missing. In a key drunken scene she does not employ a stereotypical slur when speaking; her speech is as sharp as when she is sober. She is also too steady afoot.

Valorie Hubbard's Dotty appears to be too young to have a son in the war. Her work as the least intelligent but most likeable of the three is sometimes forced as a result of burdens imposed by the dialogue. Hubbard's earnestness rescues the character from irrelevance.

When an actress became ill the day before the opening, Antoinette LaVecchia, who has a history with the play, assumed the role of Mary. Her performance is strong and captures the psychological pain Mary has kept hidden for weeks, a somewhat unrealistic element in the play.

The young couple, Matt Walton and Domenica Cameron-Scorsese, are addled with weak first act dialogue. Walton is particularly bland early but grabs control of his scenes when the various conflicts are confronted in the latter part of the play; the same holds true for Cameron-Scorsese.

Urban Stages' artistic director, Frances Hill, has staged the play effectively despite the restrictions of a small space, smartly utilized by set and light designer Roman J. Tatarowicz. The production flows well and the characterizations are well tuned. The tone of the neighborhood and time feels real except for a headline in a bundled newspaper that refers to "Al Qaeda.". Another prop problem that weakens the sense of the era is that the neighborhood inhabitants would read Boston's tabloids and not The New York Times or Wall Street Journal.

Despite the problems with the writing and some of the acting, the audience was rapt and the play produced an emotional impact at its conclusion, which suggests the work has power and is moving.

Picardi says, "My goal is to portray Italian Americans as hard working citizens who have contributed to the growth of this country throughout the 20th century". He has started his anthology with a strong but flawed effort.

It should be noted that Urban Stages provides an outlet for original plays and nurtures new playwrights. It is the kind of small institution that keeps interesting theatre alive and deserves the support of the theatre-going public.

Written by John C. Picardi
Directed by Frances Hill
Cast: Domenica Cameron-Scorsese, Valorie Hubbard, Antoinette LaVecchia, Dana Smith, Matt Walton
Set and Lights: Roman J. Tatarowicz
Costumes: Kevin Brainerd
Sound: Marc Gwinn
Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes (1 intermission)
Urban Stages, 259 W. 30th St. (between 7th and 8th Avenues)
Opens: 10/19/02; closes 12/01/ow
Tues-Sat at 8pm; Sat and Sun at 3pm -- $35, Smarttix at 212-206-1515 or www.urbanstages,org
Reviewed by Macey Levin at 10/24 performance
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