Tuesday, March 7, 2017

CT Theater Review: Napoli, Brooklyn -- Long Wharf

Christina Pumariega, Carolyn Braver and Jordyn DiNatale. Photo: T. Charles Erickson
Napoli, Brooklyn
By Meghan Kennedy
Directed by Gordon Edelstein
Long Wharf Theatre
Through March 12
Then at Roundabout Theatre Company in New York June 9-Sept. 3

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
The world premiere of Meghan Kennedy's drama about family relations in 1960 Brooklyn (the house and neighborhood are one in Eugene Lee's set design, which also includes props to create a church on either side of it. It's a little crammed up there, but Director Gordon Edelstein makes it work).

Three sisters grow up in the dysfunctional Muscolino family where displeasing patriarch Nic (Jason Kolotouros) means physical consequences. Rebellious Vita (Carolyn Braver) has been sent away to a convent where the nuns are charged with correcting a disposition that would allow her to attack her father. Boyish Francesa (Jordyn DiNatale) is wise enough to hide her romantic feelings for bubbly Irish friend Connie Duffy (Ryann Shane), but the two make plans to run away to France where they believe their lifestyle won't raise eyebrows. Francesca enlists the help of her awkward and "stupid" -- because she dropped out of school to work -- sister, Tina (Christina Pumariega), to make her get-away. Trying to hold the family together while making her delicious Italian menus and expressing her frustrations to an onion instead of God is their mother, Luda (Alyssa Bresnahan)

Everything changes, however, when a plane crashes in the neighborhood.  Feeling that God has given him a second chance, Nic apparently turns over a new leaf. Vita returns home and he even allows Tina's African-American friend Celia Jones (Shirine Babb) to move in after her home is destroyed in the crash which also claimed her husband. When Connie's father, Albert (Graham Winton), is invited to dinner, his obvious caring for Luda is a contrast to the type of relationship she has had with Nic and emotions crash, maybe with more casualty than the plane.

What Are the Highlights?
Pumariega's performance stands out as she works wonders with a simple line or an expressed emotion. The quiet sister in the background suddenly becomes the one from whom we want to hear. Babb creates Celia as a nice complement to Tina and the friendship between the two women is the highlight of the play.

The plane crash is effectively portrayed with effects from lighting and sound designers Ben Stanton and Fitz Patton

What Are the Lowlights?
The script isn't always clear. We spend a great deal of time wondering why Vita has been sent away and why she is injured before that becomes apparent. We can't quite understand why Luda allows abuse of her children and herself (depicted in rather brutal fashion) and then suddenly has a change of heart. For some reason Albert thinks it is a good idea to leave his daughter alone for the holidays to visit the Muscolinos even though she just lost a brother in the plane crash? There are too many head scratchers and most of the characters are so flawed that we find it hard to warm up to them.

Most of the characters adopt one tone: yelling.

More information:
Napoli, Brooklyn runs through March 12 at Long Wharf, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven. Tickets start at $29: longwharf.org; 203-787-4282. For information about the run at Roundabout in New York, click here.

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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