Italian American Reconciliation
Long Wharf Theatre
Long Wharf is finishing the season with a bang not a whimper. A gloriously rich comedy, a tribute to love, with a long, intriguing title, Italian American Reconciliation was written in 1988 by John Patrick Shanley. I saw the Manhattan Theatre Club production at Stage II, in the lower level of the City Center, on a very cold night in early December of that year and only remember John Turturro’s startling performance as Aldo Scalicki. He went on after that to become a film star (In checking the credits, John Patrick Shanley directed, his wife Jayne Haynes was Janice and John Panko, Huey).
Shanley is well-known for the play, Doubt, which won him a Pulitzer, but well before that he was revered for the movie, Moonstruck, and this play glows with the same light as that film does. Eric Ting has lovingly directed this exploration of feelings, self-worth and death. Unmarried Aldo, played here with a Dean Martin swagger by John Procaccino, realizes something is terribly wrong with his best friend, Huey, whom he loves and hasn’t seen or heard from in a long time.
Finding him alone, depressed, wearing a woman’s ruffled jacket and a long magenta scarf around his waist, Aldo asks him what he can do for him. Huey Maximillian Buonfigliano, acted by Michael Crane who could play the part of young, skinny Frank Sinatra, wants one thing: to get back together with Janice, his former wife. They have been divorced for three years; he has a new wonderful girlfriend, Theresa (Stephanie DiMaggio), but he can’t go on with the relationship. He is overwhelmed by a sense of failure, even though the fearsome Janice cooked bad food and shot his dog!
Meanwhile Aunt May, a middle-aged widow, depicted with superb earthiness by Socorro Santiago, keeps cleaning up what appears to be the detritus of a wedding; doling out minestrone soup and sage advice, she tells Aldo to stop being a mama’s boy and believe in the essential goodness of women. Aldo agrees to talk to Janice in what he calls a “black rendezvous,” even though he is frightened of her-she’s been torturing him since he’s a kid. He tells Aunt May he’s going to try and woo her himself to save Huey from further suffering.
With Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma” playing in the background, Janice, a part Lisa Birnbaum loads with sexy sweetness and bi-polar behavior, descends and lands on a ladder. In the original it was a balcony. It seems that she wanted to be noticed in a special way, and Huey never did it for her. Her long conversations with Aldo and Huey filled with magnificent language end successfully. Scott Bradley’ set, Linda Cho’s costumes, and Russell Champa’s lighting are luminous.
Many of the lines in Italian American Reconciliation, are really funny: one that I liked: Huey is told he looks like the Count of Monte Cristo; I couldn’t have said it better. It will play only through May 22. at LW-
This review originally aired on WMNR 88.1FM FINE ARTS PUBLIC RADIO