Italian American Reconciliation

Dean Gunera as Huey and Josh Massarotti as Aldo feature in Italian American Reconciliation - courtesy of Lab Theatre“Te toto o te tangata, he kai; te oranga o te tangata, he whenua” (While food provides the blood in our veins, our health is drawn from the land) – Maori proverb

The richness of tradition and family are not only apparent in each character in John Patrick Shanley’s Italian American Reconciliation, but it’s also laid out in the surroundings. Above the set, a silent home movie plays: children amusing themselves; adults too, at play, as they cook and delight with each other.

Set among a handful of locations in Little Italy, New York, the play is a fairy tale of sorts told by Aldo, a young irreverent but intense Italian man. He introduces us to this friend Huey, who despite having a girlfriend has come to the realisation that he’s lost something of himself and the only way to get it back is to – with Aldo’s help – try to reconcile with his ex-wife who left him three years before.

There was a quaint charm to Josh Massarotti’s banter as Aldo. It’s not a level of unreality in Shanley’s writing, but rather a compelling quality of events being cut off from the outside world that in any other context would be ridiculous (such as the spanking in Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, or the bee revelation in Outside Mullingar).

Here we have Aldo’s entertaining fourth wall-ignoring adventures – from a relaxed elbow in the beginning as he leans against the front of the stage to a sentimental spell cast before the final blackout – and Josh gives a terrific performance through all of it.

The role of Huey is split along the run of the play. Dean Gunera tackled Huey duty on opening night and for the most part was successful at depicting this troubled oddly-clad man wrestling with his regrets.

Adele Elasmar was dynamite as Huey’s how-the-heck-did-this-morose-goose-get-a-woman-like-her-to-love-him girlfriend Teresa. As much as Teresa is juggling no shortage of anxiety, Adele’s performance was passionate and hilarious and a joy to watch.

Both Huey and Aldo have been the recipients of many harsh words (and bullets) from Janice, so it’s with much anticipation that she saunters out onto her balcony to consider those calling up to her. Natalia Nespeca had the high ground and held it well as Janice went back and forth with the men below. There’s cynicism and a kind of romantic exhaustion to Janice that Natalia portrayed well, while also allowing glimpses of sweetness towards the end.

Holding court back at Pop’s Soup House was Aunt Mae, played by Francesca Arena, always ready to dispense a little advice over a bowl of minestrone. Both are good for the soul and Francesca gave a beautiful performance, whether speaking deep thoughts on love or trying to keep her head down as other argue.

Admittedly, some of the transitions (especially the last one into the curtain call) were bumpy at best. Otherwise, Director Peter Kalos has done great work in bringing to life this affectionate snapshot of a few hours of heartache and an ethnic community putting roots down, weaving them with their roots back home.

Italian American Reconciliation
The Alex Theatre, 1/135 Fitzroy Street, St Kilda
Performance: Friday 21 February 2020 – 8.00pm
Season continues to 29 February 2020
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Image: Dean Gunera as Huey and Josh Massarotti as Aldo feature in Italian American Reconciliation – courtesy of Lab Theatre

Review: David Collins