Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Also see Zander's review of I'll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers
The playwright, channeling her mother's teenage years, effectively creates the Muscolino family, people struggling to find meaning and peace. Alyssa Bresnahan, the exceptional actress who was featured multiple times when Michael Wilson helmed Hartford Stage, is cast as Ludawife, mother, and vibrant force. Nic (Jason Kolotouros) is her husband who is prone to violent temperamental outbursts which threaten to unravel the family fabric. These two individuals have emigrated from Italy and attempt to raise three adolescent daughters.
Vita (Carolyn Braver), the eldest, stepped up to challenge her father and now finds herself blocks away from her home since she was sent away and is ensconced in a convent. Tina Muscolino (Christina Pumariega) is the middle daughter and she works in a factory. Tina, solid and sensible, thinks little of her own looks but has a good friend, Celia Jones (Shirine Babb). Celia, married, speaks glowingly of her husband. The youngest Muscolino is Francesca (Jordyn DiNatale), a girl whose inner fortitude is undeniable. Francesca's dearest person is redheaded Connie Duffy (Ryann Shane), daughter of the local butcher Albert Duffy (Graham Winton).
Albert, a kindly soul, and Luda eye one another and their possibly growing relationship adds subtext to the main story line. Luda is loyal to her husband, even if Nic is very much a forerunner of the Tony Soprano type. He is physically abusive but, after a catastrophic moment just before intermission, returns during the second act to briefly display his softer side.
Eugene Lee's scenic design is wonderfully inclusive of: kitchen appliances, a large bed, a couple of tables, and a Christmas tree in the background. One views exteriors of row houses at the rear of the stage. Gordon Edelstein, directing, effectively moves around all the characters to achieve a neat fluency. This is not the simplest of tricks and Edelstein's ability to help actors navigate the performance space is commendable.
Meghan Kennedy precisely nails the time period and placethe Brooklyn neighborhoodTrue, her people are stock types but her dialogue is true and their actions paint a representative composite photograph of the era. This is authentic, genuine theater. Still, there are moments, particularly during the longer first act that are a bit staticnot enough occurs. The final portion of the play is fully cogent. The script is inviting and informative. On the one hand, it begs for fuller conversation and even revelation. Then, however, the running time would be lengthier, potentially losing some theatergoers along the way (the show currently runs two hours and fifteen minutes, with intermission).
There isn't a weak link in this cast. All of the performances are positive ones, with Bresnahan leading the way. Her accent, from moment one, is both distinctive and firm; she holds it throughout. Each of her daughters, at times, brings a touching, sympathetic presence. When the three young women gather in the large bed during the second act, this becomes a sweet, compelling scene. Kolotouros, as Nic, has a difficult job since his character is easy to loathe. The actor is up to his assignment.
In all, Napoli, Brooklyn works well as a period piece. Kennedy focuses upon women: their plight and their promise. Moreover, this is a play about two immigrants, Luda and Nic. They are adapting, grappling, attempting to make a go of it in Brooklyn. An underlying tension is discernible. Every so often, Kennedy provides snippets of comedy which are welcome.
Napoli, Brooklyn continues at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut, through March 12th, 2017. For tickets, visit longwharf.org or call 203-787-4282.