"Reconciliation" is Thin Pasta

By David A. Rosenberg

Remember “Moonstruck”? Did you know that wonderful 1987 film had a twin brother by the same father, playwright John Patrick Shanley? Called “Italian American Reconciliation,” it opened off-Broadway in 1988 and has now wended its way to New Haven to close this Long Wharf season.

It should'na bothered. Although it has some of the same antic, ethnic traits as the movie, the play, despite some funny moments, goes over similar territory with considerably less flair. On its own feet, this folk tale proves thin pasta at best.

The five-character work concerns Aldo Scalicki, a sad sack bachelor, and his best friend, Huey Maximilian Buonfigliano. Huey’s girlfriend is Teresa, but he can’t get ex-wife Janice, whom he divorced three years ago, out of his head.

Aldo is puzzled “It’s like you get the Hong Kong flu,” he says. “You get rid of it, now you want it back?” Besides, being with Janice meant “heartache, screaming, bad food and, finally, a dead dog.” (That last is literal: Janice did, indeed kill Huey’s dog with a zip gun, an event that puts a wet blanket on comedy.)

Good buddy that he is, Aldo promises to butter up Janice so she won’t bite off Huey’s head. Meanwhile, Huey will break up with Teresa who confides in her tart-tongued Aunt May (the Olympia Dukakis role).

When Huey spills his news, Teresa is furious, naturally. These are hot-blooded Italians, after all, with Puccini-esque bouts of operatic passion.

Knives are drawn, pot shots are taken, emotions are volatile. “There are women out there, wild troubled women,” says Aldo, “and they are trying to kill or damage . . . men.” But, no one gets hurt (except the poor dog) because, as mama’s boy Aldo concludes “in the end, you are dead; in the middle, you can love; in the beginning you are taken care of.”

Shanley (who also wrote “Doubt”) has a good ear for lively vernacular. But director Eric Ting’s production is static – people stand or sit in one place for ages -- partly because he and set designer Scott Bradley fix all the action in one room.

Symbolizing the aftermath of a wedding celebration, the location is an Italian restaurant or social hall, its walls covered with old photos. Decorations still hang, tables are filled with plates, leftovers and half-empty bottles of wine.

It’s an awkward concept. When Aldo asks Aunt May if Huey had been here, the question is patently ridiculous since Aldo sat, observing, at a side table all through the preceding scene.

Later, in a scene supposedly taking place in Janice’s backyard with her on a balcony, we’re still in the social hall with her stuck to a ladder, trying to take down wedding decorations, presumably harsh memories of her marriage. Janice’s “I’ll come down and open the door” is senseless as is her trying to shoot Huey with a stapler.

Amidst the gimmickry is a duologue between two lost, loveless characters, Janice and Aldo, that is vicious on the outside, tender underneath. It’s made particularly poignant and amusing by the acting.

As Aldo, John Procaccino is goofy and sensitive, a big galoot aware that he’s fated to be “always the prince, never the king.” As Janice, Lisa Birnbaum is a real find. Her beauty contrasts with her fury. Narrowing her eyes as if they were ready to spit fire, Birnbaum is a mischievous, bratty shrew.

Stephanie DiMaggio’s Teresa simmers with barely suppressed fury, while, as Aunt May, Socorro Santiago zings her lines as if she were flipping burgers. But Michael Crane’s Huey is bland, lacking tempestuousness and humor.

Audiences still remember and love “Moonstruck,” even seeking out the Greenwich Village restaurant where many scenes took place. It’s doubtful that this “Italian American Reconciliation” and its social hall will endure as well. At Long Wharf, you get antipasto instead of a full meal.

This review appeared in The Hour, Thursday,. May 12, 2011

 

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