note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Carl A. Rossi
Mary … Sarah Newhouse
Dotty … M. Lynda Robinson
Bella … Marina Re
Sonny … Brad Bass
Karen … Robyn Lee
This past year or so I attended three plays, which revolved around a gathering of women, middle-aged or older, and the everyday details of their lives. There were equal doses of laughter and tears; bickering and camaraderie; little joys and offstage crises --- they were the type of comedy-dramas often described as "heartwarming". Now joining their company is John C. Picardi’s THE SWEEPERS at the Stoneham Theatre, his first completed play in a commissioned series dealing with the Italian-American experience, decade by decade. THE SWEEPERS takes place in Boston’s North End in the summer of 1945, where three neighbors --- Mary, Dotty and Bella --- wait for the war to draw to a close and for life to return to the way it was. Mary’s husband and son are still stationed somewhere in the South Pacific as is Dotty’s son; the latter’s husband has returned from battle, shell-shocked, and is recovering, elsewhere; Bella’s son Sonny, exempt from the draft due to a heart murmur, marries Karen, a girl from another neighborhood and whose family has moved up the social ladder. The three women meet outside their doors to sweep, gossip and wait for Sonny to follow the time-honored tradition of hanging his wedding-night sheets out on the line to prove he has married a virgin --- but the times, they are a-changing…. There are equal doses of laughter and tears, etc. and, predictably, Tragedy taps each woman on the shoulder.
Robert Jay Cronin has directed THE SWEEPERS with loving detail and has beautifully orchestrated the play’s comic set piece --- the battle of the bed sheets --- as if the late Anna Magnani has never left us; thus a potentially distasteful topic becomes riotously funny (all that’s needed are some goats running about). Richard Chambers has designed an equally detailed collection of tenement buildings though it too-closely resembles the pop-up storybook setting for Stoneham’s own CHRISTMAS CAROL. The ensemble is tight and solid and must feel marvelous after all that venting, Eye-talian style; if I had to single anyone out for extra praise it would be Marina Re as Bella, who turns THE SWEEPERS into a one-woman street-opera, and M. Lynda Robinson as the Shirley Booth-sounding Dotty; when the grim reality of war hits home, Ms. Robinson becomes a blubbering child, wondering why she has been punished.
Since he is writing under a grant, I wonder how much daring Mr. Picardi has been allowed and which aspects of the Italian-American experience he will choose for future installments, especially the earlier decades (his next one is set during the Depression). While I enjoyed the THE SWEEPERS, I cannot help feeling that Mr. Picardi is currently treading water to make Italian-Americans feel good about themselves; even a flowerpot flung from a passing car is quickly swept away, literally and figuratively. He won’t be shedding much light on a people’s heritage should he continue to play it safe.