It?s a maze of madness and moonlight.
Huey Bonafigliano misses his manhood. His ex-wife took it from him when they split ? just after she shot his dog and tried to shoot him.
And now he wants her back.
Italian American Reconciliation, USFTheatre?s newest production, opens Friday night in Theatre 2 and runs through Oct. 6.
With a five-person cast, there?s a multitude of smart-aleck retorts and a hint of Brooklyn slang. The comedy explores the fear of relationships and the ability to love in today?s world.
“Since it?s the beginning of the fall semester, I wanted a play with a small cast that we could put together very quickly,” said Robin Gordon, director and TheatreUSF professor. “I?ve never actually seen (the play) done.”
So with that, she set out to make it work. And it does.
Huey, played by senior Brian Gleason, is down on his luck and slaving his days away writing forlorn poetry about his ex-wife, Janice, played by junior Wendy Clifford. It?s been three years since his divorce from the woman who brought him nothing but heartbreak, screaming, bad food and a dead dog.
Huey?s best friend, Aldo Scalicki, played by senior Mark Wood, tries to rescue him with a crass pep talk. Instead, Aldo finds himself pulled into a scheme to get Janice back.
So Huey dumps his new girlfriend, the sweet Theresa, played by junior Tara Moore, who is pining for him over a bottomless pot of minestrone at Pop?s, the local Italian diner. Aunt May, played by C.J. Hartland, encourages her to put him out of her mind for the better.
Aldo is sent to plead with Janice to take his buddy back. The dramatic sweep comes in when the slick wiseguy Aldo decides to seduce her instead.
Janice, mean as ever, stands atop her brick balcony with a gun pointed at Aldo and has a heated argument waiting for Huey.
It?s easy to imagine how crazy it gets.
As Aldo put it, “deez women?ve got me traumatized.”
Several scenes in the performance offer an insightful look into the emotional life of an Italian-American man. Aldo acknowledges that a poor relationship with his father has contributed to a lifelong fear of commitment. Huey, on the other hand, weeps at the loss of such a dysfunctional relationship.
And like the Sopranos-style head of the family, both are fighting to find a way to balance their macho manliness with their desire to love and be loved.
“Their attempts to reconcile issues of family, love and betrayal demonstrate the human condition in all its pain and glory,” said Gordon. “It?s so moving and funny, all at the same time.”
Such inward examination certainly demands an elevated level of acting, one that Gordon extracts satisfactorily from her cast. All five cast members deliver engaging performances throughout, most obvious in Wood?s adaptation of Aldo?s slick veneer and Clifford?s variation on Janice?s shrewish attitude. Hartland also delivers Aunt May with an energy that is nothing less than excellent.
According to Gordon, making the characters believable was a difficult challenge. The cast spent quite a bit of time finding, as she put it, “the size” of their roles.
“They are expressively large characters,” she said. “And none of the cast was from New York. We spent a lot of time working on the accents and physicality of it.”
Wood said he and other cast members were constantly reciting scenes for preparation.
“I?ve watched all the New York gangster TV shows and movies, you know, like Goodfellas,” Wood said.
While it?s obvious the accents do tend to stretch the true “New Yawkishness,” the overall impression leaves plenty of room for audience forgiveness.
The set itself combines the quaintness of a Little Italy neighborhood with an intimate glimpse into Aldo and Huey?s life. Strings of light bulb stars adorn the ceiling, creating a romantic atmosphere for a not-quite-so-romantic tale.
The audience sits at Parmesan cheese-laden, red checker clothed tables directly on the stage.
Frank Sinatra belts out a serenade and a giant moon hangs from the sky afar.
Definitely expect to be dazzled from the very beginning.
Contact Danielle Ritchie at email@example.com