Playwright John Patrick Shanley described his dark comedy, “Italian American Reconciliation,” as a folktale. But the play strikes me as more of an allegory, given its simplistic structure, which intentionally omits much of life’s realism in favor of a sharp focus on emotion.
Think: the movie “Moonstruck,” another Italian-American fable written by Shanley. “Moonstruck” also has a dreamlike quality.
With Shanley, character development is almost beside the point. He opts, instead, for symbolic caricatures that fix audience attention on individual personality traits that become the subject of the play.
Take Aldo, superbly rendered by actor Rex Ijams in the production currently on stage at Prescott Center for the Arts’ Stage Too. Aldo is the stereotypical, slick Italian man, straight out of New York City’s Little Italy. He wears a sport coat, and a gold chain around his neck is visible via his dress shirt’s open collar. Aldo fits the stereotype in a comical, almost self-deprecating, way.
WHAT: “Italian American Reconciliation”
WHEN: Through Sunday, Feb. 25. Showtime is 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Matinees are at 2 p.m. on Sundays.
WHERE: Prescott Center for the Arts’ Stage Too, in the alley off Cortez Street between Willis and Sheldon in downtown Prescott.
TICKETS: $17 all performances.
INFO: pca-az.net or
We learn a few things about Aldo during the play’s introduction, intended as an aside to the audience. Aldo confides certain weaknesses, not the least of which is his fear of women. Yet he idolizes his mother. The combination can’t possibly bode well for any future romance, and Aldo seems resigned to this fact.
The action begins when Aldo pays a visit to his friend Huey (played by Amos Owen). He’s been divorced for three years by then, and he tells Aldo he’s hit rock bottom.
Huey wears a get-up that makes him look like an incongruous Renaissance Faire minstrel and he speaks in cryptic terms about having become weak. He tells Aldo the only way he can regain his strength is to reconcile with his ex-wife, Janice, by all accounts a witch of a woman who had shot Huey’s dog and tried to kill Huey, too.
Given the puzzling circumstances, it’s hard to know, at first, what to make of Owen’s depiction of Huey. But his turns out to be another well executed role in this show.
Although Aldo begs Huey not to return to Janice, Huey is determined.
Aldo hatches a plot to seduce Janice, to make sure his friend doesn’t make the biggest mistake of his life.
Cheryl Rowland plays Teresa, an attractive, honest and caring young woman who has become involved with Huey and senses he is about to dump her. Teresa is another two-dimensional stereotype of Italian-American heritage. At least Huey has the decency to break up with Teresa before embarking on his quest to re-woo Janice.
Prescott Center for the Arts regular Trudy Forbes plays amiable Aunt May, proprietor of some an Italian restaurant. By Shanley’s design, May falls short of supplying the voice of reason and wisdom, changing her mind while offering advice to Aldo and Teresa. Who knows why Shanley chose to depict May as indecisive -- perhaps to place all of the responsibility for the other characters’ actions firmly on them.
Act II presents the “frightening” Janice (played by Angela Bryan), in telling interchanges, first with Aldo, then with Huey. Bryan portrays Janice with a suitably sharp edge. But she also exposes a refreshing, raw honesty and a subtle glimmer of vulnerability. Things begin to make more sense as the audience assess Janice’ physical beauty, her loneliness, conflicted feelings about intimacy. She has habitually pushed men to the brink until they were utterly destroyed.
Suddenly, Huey’s motivation seems plain although he doesn’t realize until later that his goal isn’t to reconcile with Janice, but to prevail over her.
Will he then be able to resume his relationship with the wounded Teresa? Will he want to? With his newfound self-confidence, anything seems possible. And we discover that the reconciliation of the play’s title is that of Huey with himself, not any reconciliation of his relationship with Janice.
Bruce Lanning directs this unusual play. Although it is beautifully directed and acted, its messages seem commonplace, but fail to come across with clarity or power.