Review: ITALIAN AMERICAN RECONCILIATION at Elmwood Playhouse

A Trip To Little Italy Via Nyack!

By: Jan. 26, 2024
Review: ITALIAN AMERICAN RECONCILIATION at Elmwood Playhouse

A Visit to Little Italy by way of Nyack!

As I entered the theater, I was greeted with a soundtrack of popular Italian songs which I grew up listening to with my Italian immigrant family. All are nostalgic favorites; Neapolitan classics, Italian-American tunes, as well as Opera. The mood of excitement and anticipation engulfed me, as I was looking forward to revisiting a play by one of my favorite playwrights!

John Patrick Shanley, won recognition with Off-Off Broadway productions of his plays;  Welcome to the Moon (1982), Danny and the Deep Blue Sea (1984), and Savage in Limbo (1985). He is best known for his Pulitzer-winning drama Doubt (2005) and his Oscar-winning screenplay for the 1987 film, Moonstruck. Born in the Bronx, most of his acclaimed work is taken from his life. This is the case with “Italian American Reconciliation,Shanley revisits that familiar theme from Moonstruck of an Italian love affair gone bonkers, with equally melodramatic results.

Italian American Reconciliation, subtitled "A Comic Folktale," is a lesson about relationships, taught by Aldo, our protagonist, who explains to the audience in the play's unusual, stand-up-comedy-like opening, that he's there "to teach you something." We're his class, he tells us, and he engages us as he steps into the action and weaves his tale.

In NYC's Little Italy, Aldo and Huey Bonfigliano have been best friends since childhood. Huey finds himself in unbearable misery three years after his divorce from his wife. He has a girlfriend who loves him, but he can’t move on. He has concluded that he’s lost his manhood, that it was stolen by his ex-wife, Janice when she left him. The only way to get it back, he believes, is to woo Janice and get her back.  So, the plan is that Huey will break up with his current waitress girlfriend, Teresa, while Aldo butters up Janice and prepares her for Huey’s impending overtures. This scares Aldo, who has been intimidated by the impossibly villainous Janice since they were children, but he agrees to help Huey with his crazy plan. Both Huey and Aldo contradict the macho stereotype of Italian-American men, very willingly exhibiting plenty of emotional vulnerability, although this sensitivity doesn't mean that either man has a clue about how best to carry on with women. Much of the action takes place at Pop’s Diner where, over bowls of minestrone, our characters try to make sense of their passionate predicaments.

Shanley gives us five very quirky Italian-American characters. All were brought to life with commendable performances and solid direction by Peter Garruba. He keeps the pace of the production moving well. He balances the absurdly comic nature of the play while still helping the audience empathize with the characters.

John Carlos Lefkowitz is terrific as Aldo. His charm and cocky self-confidence immediately engage the audience as he ad-libs with us while setting up the story. And he has great interplay with us throughout the show. Lefkowitz also deftly shows us the vulnerable cracks in Aldo's confident exterior. Aldo’s easy charm disguises the fact that he's a mama's boy afraid of commitment. Despite his womanizing, he is terrified of women. Lefkowitz also reveals the warmth this big-mouthed character is capable of.

Huey, as performed by Paul Halley is colorful, eccentric, and very troubled as he grapples with his regrets. Halley delivers an amusing, genuine, heartfelt performance. He is successful at gaining our sympathy even though we can’t fathom his ardent desire to reunite with his crazy ex-wife who killed his dog.

The tumultuous Janice is played superbly by Sierra Lidén. Her portrayal is one of a menacing, damaged, yet addictively attractive woman. She succeeds in garnering some empathy as she allows us to briefly see through her harsh exterior. While cynical and erratic, there are momentary glimpses of vulnerability and sweetness.

NormaJean Pfautsch brings a genuine sense of conflict to Teresa, the beautiful and understanding girlfriend. A good girl who is deeply in love with Huey. While anxiety-ridden, she is able to find her strength and sense of self.  Pfautsch’s performance was passionate and funny and a joy to watch.

Debbie Buchsbaum is wonderful as Teresa’s widowed Aunt May. She dispenses wisdom with a touch of cynicism.  Whether offering profound thoughts on love, or merely struggling to keep her head down while others argue, her performance is hilarious and well-crafted.

Accolades to the production staff for a well-produced show. Set Designer, Ralph Felice, created an effective set design evoking several locations of New York's Little Italy district. Lighting Designer Tim Reid, Properties Designer Rich Ciero, and Costume Designer Janet Fenton, all contributed to the sheer magic of transporting us to another time and place. Sound Designer Larry Wilbur and music contributor Paul Russo understood that music, especially Opera is another character in Shanley’s plays. The story is moved forward by music that true Italians will appreciate.

Excellent job by Stage Managers Claudia Marino and Mike Gnazzo who, along with assistant stage Manager Kerri Donlon and their efficient backstage crew, kept the show running smoothly and with great aplomb.

It is an entertaining cautionary tale about taking nothing for granted in love. Driven by passion, folly, hope, and despair, love is treacherous and difficult, but, there is no living without it. And as the character, Aldo wants the audience to learn: "The greatest, the only success, is to be able to love."

Don’t miss this humorous, moving production! A warning; you’ll leave the theater craving a bowl of minestrone.

Be sure to view the artwork of The Nyack Art Collective on exhibit in the Elmwood lobby gallery throughout the run of the show.

Directed by Peter Garruba, the production features Debbie Buchsbaum (of River Vale, NJ), Paul Halley (of Suffern, NY) John Carlos Lefkowitz (of West Nyack, NY), Sierra Lidén (of Northvale, NJ), Normajean Pfautsch (of Nyack, NY), Blair Pieroni (of Nanuet, NY) and Kerri Donlon (of New York, NY).

Performances of Italian American Reconciliation run through February 10th
Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.
With an open caption performance on Thursday, February 8th at 8 p.m.

Tickets are $30. Seniors, students, and military: $27.

Visit elmwoodplayhouse.com or call 845.353.1313 for reservations and information.
Elmwood Playhouse is located at 10 Park Street in Nyack, New York.




Videos