Sunday, February 26, 2017

Review of "Napoli, Brooklyn"

The Muscolino household is awash in domestic drama, economic difficulties, and cultural acclimation.  In playwright Meghan Kennedy’s down-to-earth, languid world premiere, Napoli, Brooklyn, at Long Wharf through March 12th, nothing is matter-of-fact for this Italian-Catholic family.  Husband Nic (Jason Kolotouros) and wife Luda (Alyssa Bresnahan) were part of the wave of immigrants coming to American shores before World War II.  In the play, which takes place in the early 1960’s, they along with their three children Vita (Carolyn Braver), Tina (Christina Pumariega), and Francesca (Jordan DiNatale) struggle to navigate the changing times of that period.  As their lives, along with those of their friends and acquaintances, ebb and flow a cataclysmic event—the December 16, 1960 plane crash in Park Slope Brooklyn—changes individual and family destinies forever.
From left, Christina Pumariega, Alyssa Bresnahan, Jordyn DiNatale and Jason Kolotouros.

Author Kennedy’s semi-autobiographic play crafts, what seems like a life-altering story for each character.  The overall effect, while keeping our interest, comes across as slightly manufactured and illusory.  Can one family’s members really be dealing with so much all at once—marital turmoil, sexual awakening, a budding African-American friendship at work, and even a sister’s banishment to a convent—at one time?  The arc of the play purports to revolve around the immigrant experience and how the changing mores of the 1960’s affects the Muscolino clan.  Yet except for a shoe-horned religious element the assimilation and accompanying struggles of the first generation American off-spring and their old world parents doesn’t resonate strongly.

The cast does an admirable job conveying the emotions and feelings associated with their particular narrative.  For example, Tina’s budding relationship with Celia (Shrine Babb), an African-American colleague at work, rings true.  However, the characters can come across as lacking subtlety and depth.  The individual stories associated with each character are not fully integrated into the whole of the play.  Only Alyssa Bresnahan as Luda, who is the heart and soul of the family, manages to successfully insert herself into each vignette of the production.  She is loving and protective as she attempts to understand and cope with the new reality spreading around her.  Jason Kolotouros as Nic, is crass, authoritative, and threatening, yet manages a brief, sympathetic nod after undergoing a transformative experience, before reverting back to his intimidating and unnerved self.
From left, Christina Pumariega, Jordyn DiNatale and Carolyn Braver.

Carolyn Braver comes across, initially, as flippant in her portrayal of the eldest daughter Vita.  But once temporarily away from the semi-imprisonment of her cloistered life she reveals a more hardened edge.  Christina Pumariega’s Tina is unsophisticated, but lacks shading in her role.  Jordan DiNatale’s Francesca and Ryann Shane as Connie, the younger daughter’s best friend, are playful and immature, but come across as juvenile 13 year olds as opposed to the 17 year olds stated in the script.  Graham Winton as Albert Duffy, the neighborhood butcher and admirer of Luda, is amiable, yet prosaic.  Shrine Babb, in her short time on stage, gives the character of Celia Jones a more fully nuanced rendering.

Director Gordon Edelstein lets the story slowly develop as the characters and their stories slowly unfold.  Scenes can be touching and brutally honest, but the overall feel is too episodic.  There is a lack of depth to the actor’s portrayal of their roles, which deprives the characters of generating any sustained passion or poignancy.  Act If’s climax of a holiday meal meltdown comes across as somewhat forced and artificial due, however, more to the way scene is written by the author.  However, Edelstein’s handling of the Act I finale is flashy, explosive, and gripping. 
From left, Shirine Babb and Christina Pumariega.

Special kudos need to go to set designer Eugene Lee, Light Designer Ben Stanton, and Sound Designer Fitz Patton for the audience rousing plane crash sequence—a jolting cacophony of theatrical wizardry.

Napoli, Brooklyn, an unrealized slice of the immigrant experience, playing at the Long Wharf Theater until March 12th.