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Napoli, Brooklyn

Meghan Kennedy
Original Theatre Company in association with Park Theatre
Park Theatre (Park 200)
to

The Muscolinos are an Italian immigrant family living in Brooklyn in the 1960s. Father Nic, devoutly Catholic at least in physical observance, is disappointed that life in America isn’t what he hoped for but even more dissatisfied that he has three daughters and no sons. He’s a bully who brings a sadistic touch to his marriage that seems to momentarily rekindle the spark that it had back in Naples.

Wife Luda, queen of the kitchen, isn’t talking to God; she speaks to him through an onion. When not producing a ravishing ragu, she’s kept busy trying to protect her girls from her husband.

Eldest daughter Tina, now 26, went to work in a tile factory to supplement the family income, still shares a bed with teenage Francesca and both miss middle sister Vita who used to sleep with them. She has been packed off to a convent after stopping her father from attacking Fran who had cut off her hair. Vita took the brunt of his anger getting her nose and ribs broken.

Fran would happily have been one of the sons her dad wanted. She is discovering her lesbian sexuality and in love with Connie, daughter of the local butcher who has a warm spot for her mother.

It’s an interweaving of old traditional values and young aspirations among immigrants that isn’t particularly original but well acted, though the reality of Neapolitan and Brooklyn accents at high speed sometimes challenges comprehension.

In her mind, Francesca has got things worked out: she and Connie are going to escape to France together. A local catastrophe (a real event plane crash) brings tragedy that thwarts that and seems to change Nic Muscolino but there is an explosion of real feeling and plain speaking that leaves both family and audience stunned.

Hannah Bristow is a splendidly impulsive Francesca and Madeleine Worrall gives a glimpse of a different Luda beyond the dutiful wife and devoted mother, though it is difficult to see why she still loves Robert Cavanah’s abusive dad.

With workmate Celia (Gloria Onitiri) encouraging illiterate Tina (Mona Goodwin) to demand more of life, Georgia May Foote as Vita back from the convent bursting with anger and Stephen Hogan as Luda’s gentle admirer, you can’t blame the actors if this play never really hits home. Lisa Blair’s production and Frankie Bradshaw’s setting move fast and look well but, like the figures of the Virgin that edge the stage, dramatist Kennedy presents images of problems without really investigating them: its drama is on the surface and needs to dig deeper.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton