'Italian American': a fun fable that reverses stereotypes about gender

November 20, 1991|By J. Wynn Rousuck

John Patrick Shanley's "Italian American Reconciliation" is a romantic fable that evokes a feel-good response similar to the author's "Moonstruck." This little story would never warrant the same "bravissimo!" reaction as the hit movie, but Fells Point Corner Theatre's production is sure to warm a few hearts.

The plot concerns two men so obsessed with romance they apparently don't bother to work for a living. Instead, Huey spends his time pining away for the wife who divorced him three years ago. And his best friend Aldo appears to have nothing better to do than help him win her back.

The trouble is, Huey's ex-wife Janice has a personality best described by the term commonly applied to a female dog. Actually, dogs are a sensitive topic since Janice prompted the breakup by shooting Huey's pet pooch. By the time we finally meet Janice, the other characters have spewed so much venom about her, it would take the Wicked Witch of the West to live up to it.

But Amy Jo Shapiro goes one better; she's Fells Point Corner's answer to hot-headed Mercedes Ruehl in "Married to the Mob." Admittedly, this is a derivative performance, but it's derivative of the best, and it's the best reason to see this production.

In addition, Darlene Deardorff delivers an endearing performance Huey's sweet, long-suffering girlfriend. If the actresses come across better than the actors, it's probably partly because the male characters are such fools. Huey parades around in a get-up that looks like a cross between Don Juan and the Count of Monte Cristo. Considering what a buffoon Huey is, Tony Colavito is surprisingly good at making him believable; but he can't do the impossible, i.e., turn him into anyone you care about.

Mark E. Campion's Aldo carries the weight of the play; he narrates the action, beginning with a stand-up comedy routine and ending by reciting the moral of the story. It's a less far-fetched role, kind of an updated Cyrano, and Mr. Campion is comical when he attempts to woo Janice in Huey's stead --

backing away whenever she approaches. But he doesn't make an especially convincing Italian American.

Essentially, "Italian American Reconciliation" is about reversing stereotypes -- men are the weaker sex, defining themselves in terms of their relationships to women, instead of vice versa. If it takes grand-scale opera to express full-blown Italian passion, no wonder a mere music box is the play's repeated motif. In "Moonstruck," the moon hit your eye like a big pizza pie; here it's just a piece of pepperoni.

"Italian American Reconciliation" continues at Fells Point Corner Theatre weekends through Dec. 15; call (410) 276-7837.

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