The opening show of Granite Theatre's new season is John Patrick Shanley's "Italian American Reconciliation", a comic folktale which is a gritty downtown ethnic version of a drawing room comedy. He is also the author of "Doubt" and "Moonstruck" which shows how adept he is at both dramatic and comic shows. Shanley tears down the fourth wall of the theatre with the entrance of Aldo Scalicki who comes down the center aisle of the audience saying "How ya doin?" to the nearest guy, talks to his mother, (a make-believe audience member), gives a rose to one of the ladies in the audience and sends a make-believe former girlfriend out of the theatre, making a date with her for 11PM. The show start off with "O Sole Mio" and takes place in Little Italy, NY in present day and is the comic exploration of male/female relationships seen through these five characters with some Runyonesque dialogue within their one-liners. Huey Maximilian Bonfigliano has a problem. While he is safely divorced for three years from his shrewish first wife, Janice, who shot his dog and even took a pop shot at him, feels he can't regain his "manhood" until he woos and wins her back one more time. He feels this while put this shitty period of his life, a broken marriage, behind him once and for all. He enlists the aid of his lifelong buddy, Aldo, a confirmed bachelor who tries without much success, to convince Huey that he would be better off sticking with his new girl friend, Teresa, a usually placid young waitress whose indignation flares when she learns what he is up to. Her wise Aunt May advises her to give him the finger first, which in their lingo means to dump the crazy bastard before he dumps you. In a moonlit balcony scene which is reminiscent of Cyrano de Bergerac and a dysfunctional Romeo and Juliet, Aldo pleads his friend's case and, to his astonishment, Janice capitulates although not for long. However we do learn that her earlier abuse of Huey was intended tomake him "act like a man" not a lovesick puppy which at last he does. And more than that, he and the audience become aware that, in the final essence, "the greatest and only success is to be able to love", a truth which emerges delightfully from the heartwarming, wonderfully antic and always imaginatively conceived action of the play. Veteran director Arthur Pignataro molds his five performers into these roles and from start to finish, they leave the audience in stitches all night long and the show and talented cast are rewarded with a standing ovation at the end of the night.
The unit set for the show constructed by David Jepson, consists of three main playing areas. Stage right is Huey's apartment with a table, two chairs and a free standing doorway, the center segment is Pop's Soup House with the same doorway, yellow counter with the soup tureen on it and a table for two downstage/ On stage left is Janice's house which consists of the facade of a stoop with three stairs and far left is the balcony which is where the shrew appears during the second act. Not only does Arthur direct & block the show wonderfully, he also runs the lights and sound for the show and is aided by his hard working stage manager Francesca Wish who keeps things running smoothly all night long. John Cillino leads the cast as Aldo, a wise-cracking, macho Italian-American mama's boy in black suit jacket with blended threads. He does an excellent job whether he is walking through the crowd or interacting with the other performers. Aldo plans to save Huey from Janice by seducing her himself even though since childhood instead of playing house they played funeral with him in the coffin. His one liners are hilarious including having an erection, a small one at the start of the show, his balls are wound up in a bunch ( which means he wants to bed Janice) after he says she has demon like eyes and fangs. John is terrific as the fast-talking commitment shy Romeo and comedy club host-narrator and as the more serious little boy who never cut mama's apron strings because he never get a chance to know his father. He has grown so much as an actor since I first reviewed him in "Legends". Bravo. Brian Olsen is also topnotch as the tortured Huey who can't get over his divorce with Janice. Huey has become a poet who writes crappy poems which he reads to Aldo. Brian is dressed in a beret, all black pants and shirt with a red kerchief around his neck and as Aunt May refers to him looks like the Count of Monte Cristo while Aldo refers to him as a Frog. Huey gives the brush off to Teresa but wants to keep her on a string till he finds out how things go with Janice. When he finally convinces Janice to come down from the balcony, he sweeps her off her feet like Scarlet O'Hara from "Gone with the Wind".Mary Sue Chiaradio is hilarious as the homespun philosophizing May. Open your heart and marry, then you die is one of her sayings. So the important thing to do is to love someone before it is too late. Her character reminds you of Olympia Dukakis' mother from "Moonstruck". When Aldo wonders where Teresa is, May proclaims she just up and went to Canada and wasn't waiting around for Huey to make up his mind. Mary Sue is funny whether she is enjoying her minestrone soup or spouting her comic one liners. Her Italian accent and gestures are right on the money, too. Amy Buckley, statuesque redhead appears as Janice making a wonderful debut performance on the Granite stage. Although she only appears in the second act her portrayal makes men quake in their boots because you never know when she is going to shoot her zip gun at you. When she first appears, she throws a bunch of roses off the balcony, making an audience member utter, "she really is a bitch!" Her character reveals that she was never loved by her father that is why her relationship with Huey didn't weather the storm and she killed his dog because Huey really loved him. Her character is reminiscent of Cher's in "Moonstruck". Last but not least is Rochelle Weinrauch as the raven haired beauty, Teresa. Having last seen her as Eliza in "My Fair Lady", this role tests her acting chops as an actress and she comes up a winner once again. Her scene with Brian, John and Mary Sue crackle with intensity whether she is upset with the men or just wanting comfort and advice from her aunt. So for a night of hilarity with a new and unseen show in this area, be sure to catch the ethnic hi-jinks found in "Italian American Reconciliation". Tell them Tony sent you to the Granite Theatre.