"Afta the show, lemme know what ya think," Aldo, the thuggish protagonist and narrator of Italian American Reconciliation, says to a man in the front row during a pre-show improvisation session. While his routine is initially humorous, the stereotypical Italian accent and exaggerated facial expressions are not. Aldo (Craig Glantz) is not introduced as a man to take seriously, even though he is later portrayed as a philosophical character. Glantz, as well as the cast's other actors, are competent performers saddled with the difficult task of trying to squeeze serious emotions out of their unrealistic, over-the-top, cartoon-like characters.
In fact, the only thing authentically Italian about Italian American Reconciliation, playing at the Gene Frankel Theatre, is its soundtrack. Audience members clap along to "Mambo Italiano," sway to the romantic sounds of "Addio, Mulberry Street," and laugh at music made famous by playwright John Patrick Shanley's other Italian-American tale, the beloved 80's film Moonstruck.
A confusing love triangle develops as Aldo devises a plan to seduce his best friend Huey's abusive ex-wife Janice to prevent Huey from dumping his loving girlfriend Theresa and going back to Janice. Which raises a question: Will Huey (David Ellner) remain Aldo's best friend if he catches him in bed with his ex-wife?
Apparently, Aldo does not consider this, because later that night he stands in Janice's backyard throwing rocks at her bedroom window until she angrily emerges holding a pistol. This backyard, as it turns out, is the most authentic Italian setting in the play. Whereas other scenes consist of a generic table and chair for conversation, the backyard is elaborately realized, with a brick and vine-covered wall topped off with a railing for a balcony, a sliding-glass door that opens into the backyard, and a plastic, white picnic table standing center stage.
Throughout the course of this very long scene, Janice (Jen Peterman) remains perched on her balcony like Juliet, while Aldo and Huey take turns standing below her like Romeos, begging her to come down. She declines and draws a gun on Aldo, attempting to shoot his kneecaps after he suggests they "tear up the mattress." Terrified, Aldo leaves, and Huey enters with a different approach. Here the previously fast-paced and comedic tone set by Aldo ends, and a longwinded diatribe, spoken in desperation by Huey with overly poetic language, begins.
As an over-the-top, sadistically comic character torturing the sleazy Aldo, Janice works, but as a serious love interest to the kindhearted Huey, she does not. She says her fondest memories of their marriage include purposely burning his food, beating him, shooting his dog, and trying to shoot him when he forgives her for the dog. What she does not say is why she married him in the first place, which is the elephant in the room during this scene.
The story takes another confusing turn when Aldo steps in as narrator to explain that we should root for Janice and Huey's reconciliation even though his original plan was to prevent it. He gives a rushed and convoluted explanation as to why he changed his mind, ending with a moral teaching: everyone must learn to love.
While this may be an important lesson, the story does not clearly teach or preach it. In fact, the lesson here feels more along the lines of "how to escape an abusive relationship."
Still, it must be said that there were audible shrieks of joy from the audience whenever a classic Italian melody was played. For many of the bouncing, handclapping audience members, the Italian ambiance alone seemed to be worth the price of admission to Italian American Reconciliation.