“Italian-American Reconciliation,” Long Wharf Theatrer through May 22       

--Irene Backalenick

  “Italian-American Reconciliation,” now on stage at Long  Wharf, feels more like a writing exercise than a play. It’s as though John Patrick Shanley had scribbled notes, putting ideas on a notepad.

Dubbed as a comedy-romance, this 1988 play hardly serves as follow-up to the playwright’s memorable 1987 film “Moonstruck.” But where can one go after perfection has been reached? The best moments of this piece do recall “Moonstruck.” Cher’s famous “Snap out of it!” has become, “Get over it!” But are these reminders needed?

So what do we have here on the Long  Wharf stage? Director Eric Ting gives a sense of place to the piece, recreating an Italian-American world. The show opens in a hall where a wedding party—or something of the sort—has just ended. Half-empty wine bottles and glasses, rumpled napkins, adorn the tables. Only Aldo (John Procaccino) remains seated at a table, guzzling wine. He addresses the audience directly, urging them to turn off cell phones, and then proceeds to introduce the characters and their story.

His pal Huey (Mike Crane) is still in love with his ex-wife Janice (Lisa Birnbaum) and wants to win her back, though he has a new girl friend—Teresa (Stephanie DiMaggio). As he explains it, he loves Teresa, but is in love with Janice. Huey persuades Aldo to be John Alden to his Miles Standish—that is, to intercede for him. But Aldo fails miserably. Both women, engulfed in righteous fury, go at the men, literally at times with a knife. Every one is insecure, touchy, yearning. But it is the men who are the romantic Latins, the women who live in the real world.

So much for potential story-telling. The ingredients are there, but Shanley takes the play no place. It is all fire, but no light—all passion, but no plot. Yet the cast acquits itself well, capturing the spirit and style of these second-generation Italians. (In particular, Socorro Santiago as Aunt May, embodies that world and recalls the Olympia Dukakis performance in “Moonstruck.”) Words pour out before thoughts are clarified, and feelings are always close to the surface. There is a good sense of timing and of style, as
characters interact.

It all gives one a sense of nostalgia and a longing for “Moonstruck,” which, fortunately, can always be found on CD, available for replay.   

This review also appears in the Connecticut Post and on nytheaterscene.com.

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