Review: ‘Napoli, Brooklyn’ at Roundabout Theatre Company

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In Napoli, Brooklyn, playing at Roundabout Theatre Company through September 3rd, Playwright Meghan Kennedy gets us started with a mimed prologue in which a family sits at the dining table, enjoying a meal and sharing the news of the day. Lights out, then up, as the dad, Nic Muscolino – played by Michael Rispoli – appears, ready for a day’s work at a paint shop in the neighborhood. His wife, Ludavica, and his daughters – Francesca, Tina, and Vita – will join us momentarily. The three, as the play unfolds, will clearly let us know how differently they feel about their background, their conditioning, even their Catholic upbringing. Superficially they follow the customs of their parents, but as they grow into womanhood, the path of each diverges in drastic and damaging ways. It takes a surprising neighborhood disaster to serve as a marker for the day that each made decisions that caused a rupture in the family’s structure.

Lilli Kay, Shirine Babb, Alyssa Bresnahan, Elise Kibler, Jordyn DiNatale, Erik Lochtefeld, and Michael Rispoli. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Under Gordon Edelstein’s controlled direction, the many short scenes have a cumulative effect so that by the final curtain, we feel part of this family. The patriarchal Papa, the maternal Mama, the girls who make this a family unit, the friends and neighbors who are collected along the way, have all re-arranged the dynamics of the folks who populate this largely Italian-American neighborhood. Daughter Francesca faces her romantic feelings for Connie Duffy, the daughter of the family’s butcher. The oldest and least smart daughter, Tina, wants to continue her education, despite her parents’ advice to remain at the factory where she and a friend perform menial work. Middle child Vita learns to step from the sidelines to center stage as a combatant during a final confrontation with their dominating father and conventional mother.

This all could have played out as a colorful soap opera were it not for the very detailed work of Meghan Kennedy, whose earlier work – Too Much, Too Much, Too Many – introduced her to the world of off/off Broadway. This new play is a fine example of the kind of work encouraged by, and sponsored by Roundabout Theatre in its constant quest for new playwrights. Her talent for characterization is evident throughout the two-hour evening, and if there is any lack in this warm family comedy, it is in its lack of structure. It has many characters to deal with, and it’s Ms. Kennedy’s way to reveal them to us in many short vignettes which do ultimately add up to a thin, but complete, story.

Elise Kibler, Lilli Kay, and Jordyn DiNatale. Photo by Joan Marcus.

The play serves primarily as another work concerned with the place of women in society, for each daughter in this particular family has a secret longing which could tear the family apart. The father, Nic, is the one who must be left behind as these three daughters find their ways past the stumbling blocks he places before them. The final moments of the play, in which their mother begins to understand what their lives are really about, is moving, and beautifully played by Alyssa Bresnahan. The daughters, too, have been lovingly and authentically created by Lilli Kay, Jordyn DiNatale, and Elise Kibler. A friend of one of them, Celia – played by Shirine Babb – is another finely tuned character, as are Juliet Brett and Erik Lochtefeld as an Irish butcher and his daughter.

The set by Eugene Lee vividly places us in the many parts of the neighborhood, and serves well as various rooms in the family’s home, as the butcher shop in the neighborhood, and the streets of Park Slope in 1960.

All in all, Napoli, Brooklyn a satisfying portrait of a very specific group of people living in a time and place that is made clear to us. It is, in total, a praiseworthy paean to the feminist movement, which it strongly supports.

Running Time: Two hours, with a 15-minute intermission.

Napoli, Brooklyn plays through September 3, 2017, at Roundabout Theatre Company performing at the Laura Pels Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre – 111 West 46th Street, in New York, NY. For tickets, call (212) 719-1300, or purchase them online.

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