Schooling Giacomo

Written & Directed By Richard Edwin Knipe, Jr.
Produced by Robin Phillips
The American Theatre of Actors, New York City
(2009)

Schooling Giacomo jumps back and forth in time, drawing parallels between the lessons a young Jake learns from uncles and local mobsters in his youth, and his relationship to his daughter as an adult. It's billed as "a bittersweet comedy," an accurate assessment, and is more observational than dramatic. The highlights of the play are moments between a young Jake and Mr. Fanuchi (played by Kevin Trotta at the production I saw), which demonstrate how quickly children can lose touch with their parents' culture and how important older generations can feel it is to help them hang on.

Knipe has a great ear for dialogue, but the majority of Schooling Giacomo seems mired in nostalgia; like those who rave over In The Heights for its accurate portrayal of Washington Heights culture, those who have grown up in Italian or Irish neighborhoods will feel a kinship with his characters here. It's a pity Knipe couldn't bring more than the usual stereotypes to life in his piece - the buffoonish uncles, the Olde Worlde Fanuchi, and the interracial tensions between the Italian and Irish parts of the population.

Dana Kenn's set is well-thought-out, fitting nearly a dozen locations into separate spaces, although there could have been more done with sound design to indicate trips to the beach and street corners (aside from some incidental music, not much thought seems to have been given to using sound to locate the action of the piece).

At $35/ticket, Schooling Giacomo seems a bit overpriced; saying that, the busload of audience members who had come down from the Bronx to watch the show did not seem disappointed with what they saw.

Rachel Lynn Brody