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
STUPID FU**KING BIRD is billed as being “sort of” adapted from Chekhov’s The Seagull. “Sort of” is right. If unfamiliar with the original, there’s a synopsis in the program. You can skip it, but there’s amusement in seeing how, in playwright Aaron Posner’s inventive, updated version, the inmates take over the asylum. Don’t take that literally. Though the histrionic Conrad Akardina is, from the start, on the brink of cracking, and who knows into what fresh hell his actress girlfriend Nina finally travels, these are ostensibly regular folks. Well, not regular – they’re artists.
“The play will begin when someone says “Stupid Fucking bird!” declares Conrad (Christopher Sears) who ostensibly authored what we’re about to see. Several audience members respond. (We’re regularly questioned and addressed.) His cast comes through the single door in a stage-long wall that says STUPID FU**KING BIRD. Everyone wears casual contemporary clothing. There are folding chairs.
We’re gathered to see the premiere of a site specific performance event called “Here We Are,” which Conrad takes VERY seriously. Beautiful Nina (Marianna McClellan), for whom he bears tortured love, will act. The young woman says she loves Conrad but there’s no deep attraction.
In attendance are: Mash (Joey Parsons), a ukulele toting nihilist besotted with Conrad; sweet Charlie Brownish Dev (Joe Paulik), Conrad’s best friend, who’s “ridiculously” in love with Mash; the playwright’s imperious actress mother, Emma (Bianca Amato); her famous partner, the writer Doyle Trigorin (Erik Lochtefeld); and her frustrated doctor-brother, Eugene Sorn (Dan Daily). It’s a fevered caucus race that never arrives, rather like Alice in Wonderland.
Marianna McClennan and Christopher Sears
The event=monologue is kind of Dadaist. “This is real,” Nina intones holding up a paper that says REAL. Then, “This is true,” holding up one that says TRUE. (There’s more.) Emma sarcastically heckles, insisting the play is an attack on her (as, she feels, is everything). Conrad stops the show and runs off wounded. Mash is upset, Dev and Eugene rather liked the piece, Emma is incredulous at her son’s oversensitivity, Doyle applies The 100 Years Test: Will anyone care in 100 years?
Nina has had a mad crush on Doyle (through his stories) since she was 12. To say sparks fly between the middle aged, sensitive-chick magnet and this hyper romantic, unblushingly forward young woman, would be minimizing everything that follows. (The actors emanate heat.)
Joey Parsons and Joe Paulik
Muddled, Conrad thinks a primal gesture will appeal to Nina and shoots a seagull she admired, laying it bloodily at her feet. It doesn’t work. You probably remember the young man then raises the gun to himself. “The only thing worse than trying to kill yourself and failing, is having to talk to your mom about it.”
There’s a terrific, lucid rant about the need for new play writing forms, a tirade describing the deplorable state of the world which concludes: all we really care about is having someone to snuggle up to at night, and one about the difference between the act of creating and fame – including the best use of breasts in a metaphor I’ve ever heard – that might constructively be discussed in philosophy 101.
In one left field parenthesis, each character has sex with him/herself and a chair. Thespians wrestle to the ground and chase one another around the theater for possession of a microphone to proclaim what they want. Conrad sincerely asks the audience for advice – answers are inadvertently priceless. Eugene confesses his fatalistic yearning to an empty kitchen. Nina and Emma strip to the waist. (Spoiler alert: one gets fervently laid.) Mash sings fraught, Nellie McKay-like uke songs. Almost everyone lets go with screaming arguments, solitary tantrums, and/or abject pleading.
Marianna McClennan and Erik Lochtefeld
Then…Mash and Dev evolve unexpectedly. Nina chases her dream coming up lost and possibly mad. Emma attacks Doyle with an eloquent, passionate, vicious speech on which she risks everything. Conrad has a play produced – this one! And, well, you probably know what happens to him. The playwright even tells us before we go.
STUPID FU**KING BIRD straddles genres like a hotheaded bull rider. It takes a little time to kick in, time during which you may wonder to what self indulgent, intractable turmoil you’ve bought tickets. At some insidious point, however, there’s a gotcha! moment and you start having a very good time. It could be edited, but take the ride. Much of this sprawling brouhaha is smart, poignant, or astringently funny. Playwright Aaron Posner’s got his mojo on.
Christopher Sears and Bianca Amato
Direction by Davis McCallum is inspired.
As Conrad, Christopher Sears’s manic energy is unremitting. Pain is visceral. He inhabits the role. Marianna McClellan (Nina) exudes sensuality and innocence. She’s catnip. Bianca Amato (Emma) is a Lucretia Borgia character. The sharpness of her speeches could draw blood. Erik Lochtefeld (Doyle) is completely believable in his habitual acceptance of adulation. What passes between him and Nina is palpable.
Sandra Goldmark’s Scenic Design morphs from graphic invective to a platformed kitchen, never losing sight of the theater’s skeleton and all it’s what’s-real implications.
Dan Daily, Joey Parsons, Christopher Sears, Bianca Amato, Erik Lochtefeld, and Marianna McClellan
Photos by Russ Roland
Opening: The Company
STUPID FU**KING BIRD “sort of” adapted from Chekhov’s The Seagull
By Aaron Posner
Directed by Davis McCallum
The Pearl Theatre Company
555 West 42nd Street
Through May 8, 2016