Napoli, Brooklyn – Dreaming Against the Odds
1960. Immigrants Ludovica Musculino (Alyssa Bresnahan) – think restrained Anna Magnani – and her abusive husband Nic (Michael Rispoli), cliché except for an undershirt, scrape by in a tenement apartment in Brooklyn. We learn nothing of Nic’s life outside home, but Luda has inadvertently captured the heart of Irish butcher, widower Albert Duffy (Erik Lochtefeld) from whom she gets attention and discreet support.
Faith in God having been severely tested, Luda now regularly “administers” and talks to onions (you heard me) attempting to regain exorcism in lost tears. Both people and objects emerge with symbol status.
The Muscalinos have three daughters. Tina, the eldest (Lilli Kay), denied education, works in a tile factory to help support the family. She’s lumpen, friendless and can’t read. Middle child Vita (Elise Kibler), is smart and outspoken. When we meet, she’s been exiled to a convent for defending 16 year-old Francesca (Jordyn DiNatale) against their violent father. Cesca’s crime? To chop her hair short. (Had Nic been aware his youngest is gay, he’d’ve probably killed her.) Vita endured a broken nose, several broken ribs, and a concussion. She will never forgive Nic. He, in turn, doesn’t allow her name to be mentioned in table grace.
Jordyn DiNatale, Alyssa Bresnahan, Juliet Brett
Luda’s steadfast love, despite objections to her husband’s behavior, is based on his “knowing who I was before I did.” She was 16 and naïve when they wed. The girls find her loyalty unfathomable. “You’re not a stupid woman,” Vita declares when allowed home for Christmas.
Dreams fill the hardscrabble apartment. Luda just wants peace. Vita intends to move out as soon as possible. Cesca has formulated plans to stow away to France with her inamorata, Albert’s daughter Connie (Juliet Brett). Tina, desperate for connection, accidentally makes a friend of saavy, fellow employee Celia (Shirine Babb) bonding under tragic circumstances.
The tragic circumstances, a shocking, beautifully manifest historical disaster, put everything into topspin. Was the event punishment from God? A parentheses of change engenders hope then dashed. Decisions are provoked.
Jordyn DiNatale and Michael Rispoli
This is a fairly well written kitchen sink drama, but misses the mark. Though characters manage to offer occasional humor, moments of specificity, and lots of familial devotion, everything is so formalized, we don’t care enough. The scope of the catastrophe is also hard to balance against outcome.
The company is fine, though an array of accents in attempt to show generational changes throws one. (Dialect Coach Stephen Gabis)
Of particular note are Jordyn DiNatale (Cesca) who reminds me of naturalistic Julie Harris in A Member of the Wedding, Shirine Babb who underplays Celia with skill and credibility, and Alyssa Bresnahan as the passionate, tightly wound Ludovica. The latter’s prayer scene in Act II is a gem.
Director Gordon Edelstein gives each daughter distinguishing expression and physicality. Well paced scenes move smoothly from one area of the permanent set to another. Two-handers are particularly well realized. The young lesbians, ostensibly too young for sexual encounter, display physical affection in a marvelously imaginative, almost balletic interlude. Fights Directed by Rick Sordelet and Christian Kelly-Sordelet are terrifically real.
Eugene Lee’s Set Design is minimal, evocative. Overhead indicators – signs for the tile factory, the butcher shop, Christ on the Cross, a stained glass window – work well without interfering. At one point Christmas lights vividly extend into the theater. (Note: when lights and garlands come down, the holiday tree oddly remains. A mistake?)
Fitz Patton’s excellent Sound Design provides both the subtle and alarming with equal skill. His music choices are perfect.
Photos by Joan Marcus
Opening: Elise Kibler, Lilli Kay, Jordyn DiNatale
Roundabout Theatre Company presents
Napoli, Brooklyn by Meghan Kennedy
Directed by Gordon Edelstein
Through September 3, 2017
Laura Pels Theatre
111 W 46th Street