Tuesday, August 4, 2009

At B Street: Reconciliation Italian Style

David Pierini, Nanci Zoppi. Erin Island Photo.

Bronx-born John Patrick Shanley is probably best known for his play, and later movie, “Doubt,” which endorsed the radical idea that uncertainty could be a virtue. In his 1986 comedy “Italian American Reconciliation,” now on the B Street main stage, he explores another human experience: love.

The play opens with an infectious monolog by David Pierini, already in character as Aldo Scalicki, the role he assumes in the play. He moves among the audience, shaking hands and “evicting” a young woman from the auditorium.

The play proper is set in New York City’s Little Italy and focuses on the ramifications of love. A passionate and volatile Huey Maximillian Bonfigliano (John Lamb) decides suddenly to leave Teresa (Nanci Zoppi), the woman he lives with, and reunite with his former wife, Janice (Lee Fitzpatrick). His expressed motive is to regain his “manhood,” a term he leaves undefined. When we first meet Teresa, she’s on the verge of leaving Huey, but when she learns of his plan to regain Janice, she decides to fight for him.

The first sign of love comes from Aldo, Huey’s boyhood friend, who “loves” Huey, but in a manly way, and offers to be Huey’s go-between in his new quest. In their first encounter, in Huey’s modest home, Huey throws around and tears up almost everything in sight, especially the poetry he’s composed, as he expresses his powerful emotions.

In the second act we meet Janice, with unruly and flaming red hair, as she makes plain her distaste for the gentle Aldo. Even when he recalls their childhood together, she’s unappeased. She expresses herself with a gun. During her marriage to Huey she shot his dog and almost shot him. Now it’s Aldo’s turn to dodge a bullet.

The voice of reason in all this is the big-hearted Aunt May (Barbara Gruen), who floats the idea that you don’t find love; when you’re capable of love it will come to you.

Under Jerry Montoya’s tight direction, a polished cast keeps the action fast-paced and economical, drawing laughs from the audience almost constantly, with Aldo’s occasional forays among the audience as he teases while narrating events. In fact he almost steals the show. For his part, Lamb entertains us with a pipsqueak lover, the antithesis of the supposed lady killer.

As Teresa and Janice (Zoppi and Fitzpatrick) give us strong-minded women who mix passion with practicality, while Gruen’s Aunt May maintains a delicate dignity through all the silliness.

Borrowed from Capital Stage, Jonathan Rhys Williams provides the twin sets, Huey’s home interior and the exterior of Janice’s apartment, back-to-back on a rotating stage, thus making for quick scene changes. A current intern in stage management, Tracy Prybyla created definitive yet unobtrusive costumes.

“Italian American Reconciliation” runs through September 20 at 2727 B Street, Sacramento, behind the Stanford Park Baseball Field. Performances are Tuesday and Wednesday at 6:30 p.m., Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 5 and 9 p.m., with matinees Wednesday and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $18-$30. Call (916) 443-5300. See also www.bstreettheatre.org.

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