Review: ‘Napoli, Brooklyn’ at Laura Pels Theater

By Jonathan Spira on 4 August 2017
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Tell it to the onion. That’s one of the several lessons we learn from Meghan Kennedy’s drama that made its New York City premiere with the Roundabout Theatre Company at the Laura Pels Theater.

“Napoli, Brooklyn” is set in 1960 and is the story of a working-class Italian family struggling to breathe under the iron fist of its patriarch, Nic Muscolino (Lev Gorn). While there are moments, particularly in the second act, that seem somewhat contrived, the play nonetheless manages to be moving and engaging.

As for the onion, the play opens with Luda (Alyssa Bresnahan) praying to the onion for a sign, for an answer. She cannot understand her lack of ability to cry and our 125 minutes with the Muscolino family makes it clear that Luda has much to cry about, including her love-hate relationship with the short-tempered Nic.

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It’s 1960 in Park Slope and the Muscolinos have raised three daughters aged 16 to 26: eldest daughter Tina (Lilli Kay), who was sent off to work in a factory to help make ends meet; middle daughter Vita (Elise Kibler), who is temporarily seeking refuge in a convent while recuperating from a beating that came out of an altercation with Nic; and the youngest, 16-year-old Francesca (Jordyn DiNatale), who dreams of stowing away on a ship to France with her girlfriend Connie (Juliet Brett), the butcher’s daughter.

The first act is a series of short scenes that introduces the characters, including Connie’s father, Mr. Duffy (Erik Lochtefeld), who has had a crush on Luda for decades, and Celia (Shirine Babb), Tina’s African-American coworker at the factory.

Performances by all were first rate although Luda’s Italian accent sometimes sounded more Spanish and Mr. Duffy’s Irish lilt played hide-and-seek.

When an unexpected event takes place in Brooklyn, accompanied on stage with brief but extremely effective and convincing sound effects and lighting, almost all of the characters find themselves at Luda’s dining room table for Christmas Eve dinner. Without giving away what would be a spoiler, the play was inspired by events in the life of Kennedy’s mother and the simple but very effective set by Eugene Lee, which employs such simple devices as advertising signage and a kitchen table, makes the theatergoer feel as if he too were in Brooklyn in the 60s.

“Napoli, Brooklyn” is a powerful and authentic coming of age story that crosses generations with secrets that eventually tear the family apart while each family member faces an uncertain future. While there are moments, particularly in the second act, that seem a bit contrived, it nonetheless manages to be moving and engaging.

THE DETAILS

Napoli, Brooklyn
Laura Pels Theater at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre
111 West 46th Street
New York, N.Y. 10036
Runtime: 2 hours and 5 minutes
www.roundabouttheatre.org

(Photos: Accura Media Group)

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