One look at the set for “Italian American Reconciliation” and you may form an opinion as to just what kind of production this is.
“It looks like ‘Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding,’ ” one man said, as he took his seat at the Long Wharf Theater’s Mainstage, referring to the interactive play that ran in New York for more than two decades. At intermission, the same man, making a more personal connection, said, “It looks like Uncle Frank’s catering hall in Staten Island.”
Actually, Scott Bradley’s scenic design is inspired. The play, John Patrick Shanley’s 1988 operatic comic romance, takes place in various settings, including a luncheonette and a woman’s backyard. But the scenes are all played in what looks like the aftermath of a large, rowdy wedding reception. Surrounded by round tables littered with empty bottles, half-drunk glasses of red wine, used napkins and leftover balloons, the five characters in “Italian American Reconciliation” enact a story as emotionally heightened as an expensive, microplanned family celebration and as sad as the morning after.
Our personable, funny narrator and star is Aldo Scalicki (John Procaccino), a bachelor who might be at home on the reality show “Jersey Shore,” if he had a tan. Aldo’s best friend is the skinny, angst-ridden Huey Maximilian Bonfigliano (Michael Crane).
Huey has romantic problems. It has been three years since he and Janice (Lisa Birnbaum) divorced, but he wants to win her back, he says. Aldo thinks this is a misguided plan, because Huey is now with a wonderful woman, Teresa (the female characters have no last names), played by Stephanie DiMaggio. Teresa doesn’t deserve to be hurt. To complicate things, Aldo himself may be attracted to Janice.
Playing something like a Cyrano or a John Alden, Aldo speaks to Janice to persuade her to give her former husband another chance. Their encounter is played as something of a balcony scene, with Janice standing on one of the higher steps of a very tall ladder. She is a tough woman, but what Teresa says about her (“She should live on a black mountain and drink out of a skull”) seems unjustified. Janice does, however, admit to killing Huey’s dog with a zip gun, and she shows no remorse.
Come to think of it, all of the characters in “Italian American Reconciliation” are unbending types who tend toward outspokenness in pronouncement form. With the help of Eric Ting’s direction, they make Mr. Shanley’s dialogue seem effortless, natural and working-class poetic.
An Irish-American playwright who grew up in the Bronx, Mr. Shanley is best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Doubt” and his Oscar-winning screenplay of “Moonstruck” (1987). “Italian American Reconciliation” opened off Broadway a year later, and at least one comparison comes to mind.
While the matriarch of “Moonstruck,” played by Olympia Dukakis, professed a belief that being in love with the person you’re going to marry will just lead to heartache, the wise older woman of “Italian American Reconciliation” is all about openness to love.
“Throw away your book of fear,” Teresa’s Aunt Mae (Socorro Santiago) says. Then she compares the proper attitude toward a new relationship to refusing to lock your apartment no matter how many times you’ve been robbed.
We’re not saying what happens with Huey, Janice and Teresa. But by the final scene, Aldo has undergone a sea change. The man who declares inexplicably in Act I that he will never marry because “the state of the country has ruined all the girls” now says, “The greatest success is to be able to love.”
Painfully sentimental, but didn’t you always know it was headed in that direction?