BWW Reviews: World Premiere Play LUIGI Offers Slow-Paced Episodic Character Study
When the patriarch of an Italian family is in his last days, his relatives gather in Tuscany to celebrate life, love, and to rediscover the bonds that hold them together. Among the crowd is Luigi's young American niece, Anna, who soon discovers that her uncle is the key to a world of freethinking and a familial relationship that she has always longed to have. Woven with poetry and memories, the reunion unveils the intergenerational connection of family.
It's a good premise for The Inkwell Theater's World Premiere production of LUIGI by Louise Munson, directed by Annie McVey. But unfortunately, the extremely slow pace and long breaks between short scenes to allow the actors to change costumes frequently bogs the play down to the point of making it feel like a movie script that was adapted for the stage as if cameras were filming it and lots of editing would be done afterwards.
All the action takes place on the home's outdoor patio, a lovely set designed by David Mauer with exquisite lighting effects designed by Derrick McDaniel which combine to capture the feel and evocative beauty of Tuscany.
At the heart of the play is the friendship between thirteen-year-old Anna (Erin McIntosh) and her Uncle Luigi (Ray Xifo) whom she has never met before. Their nighttime talks on the candlelit patio while the rest of the family sleeps are the most touching and heartfelt in the play, but often difficult to understand (as is a lot of the play) which is more than half spoken in Italian, a language unfamiliar to most American audiences.
Anna and Luigi discover they share a love of poetry, with Anna introducing her uncle to E.E. Cummings and he in turn presenting her with a book of Italian poetry. By the end of the play, Anna has mastered Italian enough to be able to translate the poems, with Luigi expressing his joy at being able to pass down the language to the next generation of his family. Xifo does not overplay his illness, focusing on what he can do rather than what he cannot do. His final lesson to Anna is to see that you can smile, something the confused teen surely will do after she returns to New Jersey and remembers the lessons learned from her uncle in Italy.
Other family members getting to know each other while caring for Luigi are his wife Mariella (Helen Duff), their daughter Maria (Nicola Bertram) who is the mother of Anna and her brother Max (guitar playing Ryan Plourde), and their son Paolo (Gian Franco Tordi) and his sexy Columbian girlfriend Diana (Stephanie Sanchez).
Munson does her best to capture those brief and subtle life-altering moments that people can have when they're in a new, strange place and find themselves connecting to others who may not even speak the same language, but the choppy nature of the scenes does not allow for much fluidity. The family spends most of their time sitting around talking and drinking red wine while preparing to eat luscious meals, which are set out beautifully but never eaten.
McIntosh and Plourde honestly portray Anna and Max's feelings of sexual questioning and awakening with heartfelt emotion. While the whole subject flusters Anna, when confronted with the possibility of being with Diana after a night of drunken dancing, Plourde shares Max's nervousness, lack of knowledge, and over-the-top enthusiasm to the point of making you feel his skin tingling. And every game played between Max and Paolo (Risk, table tennis, chess) turns out to be a testosterone one-upmanship battle.
Anna's mother Maria (Nicola Bertram) attempts to have a heart-to-heart discussion with her daughter about men, but loses her when she starts talking about the sexual passion that can hold a couple together. And while we never know why she and her husband are not still together, a plot point that would interest many in the audience, Anna just says she hates her Dad and fears her mother is losing her mind. More on this, please!
This play has much promise and the characters' relationships are interesting. But the choppy nature of so many short scenes really takes its toll on the storyline. Perhaps similar scenes, such as the family meals, could be combined so that we have a better chance of really being with these characters long enough to see into their souls.
LUIGI continues on Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm through August 16, 2014. VS Theatre is located at 5453 W. Pico Blvd. (near Hauser) in Los Angeles, 90010. Tickets are $10-20. For reservations: http://www.inkwelltheater.com/