Love, Italian-American Style
John Patrick Shanley's Italian American Reconciliation is an amiable amble of a play that revolves around the friendship of two men in New York's Little Italy. Aldo Scalicki (Tony Catanese) is a funny, fast-talking mama's boy who has never managed to maintain a relationship with a woman. Huey Maximilian Bonfigliano (Kent Randell) was once married to Janice (Paige L. Larson), an old schoolmate of both men, and a violent, irrational woman who screamed at him, served bad food and shot his dog. (She also attempted to shoot Huey himself.) Luckier than Aldo, Huey now has a second chance at a relationship, with the loving Teresa (Nikki Davis). But Huey doesn't want Teresa. For reasons known only to himself -- perhaps to prove something, perhaps to reassert his macho, perhaps because he genuinely loves her -- he wants Janice back. So even though Janice hates Aldo, Huey sends his friend on a Cyrano-like mission to visit Janice and soften her up. Aldo agrees, but he has a different plan. He'll seduce the lady himself, and thus save Huey from making the awful mistake of remarrying her.
This play has little forward momentum. It relies on quirky character rather than action. There's a certain amount of introspection, but no one really comes to any new level of self-understanding. It takes actors of great authority and charm to hold our interest under these circumstances, and this level of charm is only intermittently in evidence during the first act of the Miners Alley Playhouse production. Catanese brings a lot of energy and wistful eccentricity to the role of Aldo, but there seems to be very little warmth or camaraderie between his Aldo and Randell's Huey. In fact -- dressed in a green velvet outfit that makes him look like a pixie -- Randell seems oddly submerged and inexpressive. Nikki Davis is a strong presence as Teresa, but as a character, the woman is impossible to figure out. Why in hell does Teresa want the self-absorbed Huey anyway? There's one more character, Aunt May, who is essentially an observer; she neither comforts the distraught Teresa nor chastises the foolish men. Nita Morris Froelich gives Aunt May a kindly aura, which is about all you can do with her.
The second act, however, brings the entire presentation into focus. As written, Janice is probably the most interesting character in the play, and Paige L. Larson gives her full, multidimensional life. Here's a woman who's misunderstood, full of rage and self-pity but quite possibly capable of love. She stands on her balcony in her robe and slippers (the reference to Romeo and Juliet is intentional), snarling at the importunate Aldo until, after some back and forth about who did what to whom at school and why -- he actually succeeds in penetrating her protective carapace. This is easily the most fascinating scene in the play, and after it, everything livens up to some extent. When Huey reappears, it's as if someone has woken him. He's a vital, watchable human being -- even if his reasoning does remain as daft as ever.
I think this transformation may be deliberate on the part of Randell and director Rick Bernstein. Maybe it's only through contact with the loved and loathed Janice that Huey can feel alive. But with the script sauntering along in the first act and a set that seems to flatten speech, we really do need a more involved Huey at the center of things to keep us interested.
John Patrick Shanley is the Academy Award-winning author of Moonstruck, but this is not his best work. Still, it has some highlights, and the Miners Alley cast is talented. I imagine this could be tightened into a charming evening of theater.
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