"Sold out?" the woman in front of me barked, "Did you say sold out?!" We were standing in line at the Barksdale Theatre box office waiting to pick up tickets for the season opener, "Italian-American Reconciliation." The young woman at the ticket window explained politely that opening night was sold out but the show would be running through Oct. 7. The woman scowled and marched off.
I wanted to tell the woman to book her seats right then. If the show is anywhere near as great as it was at Theatre IV's Theatre Gym in 1997, and word gets out, she might be hard pressed to snag a seat during this run.
Now, after viewing this version, I can safely say, "Ma'am, if you're out there, do not hesitate, call for your tickets now."
The word is out: Artistic Director Bruce Miller and Managing Director Phil Whiteway, who took over the helm at Barksdale, have picked a winner.
For one thing, the script of "Italian-American Reconciliation" is from the pen of John Patrick Shanley, best known for his Oscar-winning screenplay "Moonstruck." Shanley, with a dozen successful plays under his belt, has the knack for weaving tenderness and hilarity into the fabric of his tales.
For another, Director David Bridgewater has regrouped his talented trio of actors, Fred Iacovo, B.J. Kocen and Jeanine Russo, all accorded standing ovations and great reviews for their performances in "Italian-American Reconciliation" four years ago.
Fred Iacovo returns as Aldo Scalicki, the too cool, ultraconfirmed bachelor of Little Italy. One look at Aldo, strutting machismo in a muscle shirt, gold chains, black leather, two-toned shoes, and you can't help but smile. Then there is Scalicki's slick dialogue in all its Italian-laced verbosity as he tells the tale of his best friend Huey's quest for reconciliation with his ex-wife, Janice. Scalicki's own back story of an aching childhood devoid of a father's love, a father who is now dead, also brings the audience to tears.
What's so funny about the word, "dead"? Maybe it's the way Iacovo turns it into two syllables: "dead-de." And why, when we laugh, does it also sting? Maybe it's his way of coming to grips himself when he tells Janice, "Your father is dead-de and he never loved you. And he ain't ever going to love you, cause he's dead-de." Delivery aside, Iacovo doesn't have to say a word, a simple shrug of his shoulders brings on the laughter and the urge to hug this hard guy.
Seeing right through his tough veneer is Aunt May, played charmingly by Jacqueline Jones, who is quick to offer sage advice to the lovelorn.
Also reprising his role, B.J. Kocen plays the ever-tortured Huey Maximilian Bonfigliano whose epiphany to dump his perfectly fine girlfriend, Teresa (Katie McCall), to recapture the affection of his perfectly awful ex-wife, Janice, leads to a whole lot of trouble, especially for Aldo, whom Huey has recruited to approach and soften up the dreaded ex. Huey is just a little gun-shy, and rightfully so. Before their breakup, Janice shot his dog and would have maimed Huey if the gun hadn't exploded in her hand.
We know all this before intermission. Therefore, it doesn't take much doing to get folks back in their seats for the second act to meet the man-eating Janice.
Janine Russo is perfect as the ruthless Janice. She slinks across the balcony like a hungry leopard stalking her next prey. When she finally encounters the emissary Aldo, and the fur starts to fly, it is like a real cat fight where sometimes you can't tell who's on top. The fur eventually does settle, but who comes out on top in this battle of wills, love and power simply has to be seen.
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