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[whitespace] 'Italian American Reconciliation'
Don't Fence Them In: Women and men (represented by Lauri Smith, John York and Ted D'Agostino) try to figure each other out in 'Italian American Reconciliation.'

Nothing But Feelings

Italian-American characters wrestle with interpersonal doubts in John Patrick Shanley's comedy at City Lights

By Heather Zimmerman

ITALIANS MAY HAVE a reputation as passionate lovers, but with Italian American Reconciliation, John Patrick Shanley shows that some of that passion can be turned inward. City Lights Theater Company opens its season with this likable romantic comedy that's actually more about self-discovery than love.

From the outset, best pals Aldo Scalicki (Ted D'Agostino) and Huey Bonfigliano (John York) belie the macho stereotype of Italian-American men, very willingly displaying plenty of emotional vulnerability--although this sensitivity doesn't mean that either man has the slightest clue about how best to proceed with women.

Aldo, despite his womanizing ways, admits to a general terror of the entire gender, and Huey, in a move inexplicable even to himself, has decided to forsake the undemanding love of his girlfriend, Teresa (Carol Enos), for the hope of reuniting with his ex-wife, Janice (Lauri Smith), whose abusive ways are notorious: most spectacularly, she's known for shooting Huey's dog--and for shooting at Huey.

Shanley occasionally overdoes the friends' introspective tendencies--it's easy to wonder what these characters have left to learn about their feelings when they already so eagerly explore them. In the first scene, Aldo's openness about needing his father's love and Huey's desire to understand his need for Janice suggests that they've been beating Tony Soprano to the therapist and don't need further sessions.

But much like the conflicted head of the family in The Sopranos, both men struggle to reconcile their feelings with the stereotypical male image and the uncomplicated concept of male-female relationships they grew up accepting, and this seems to be the true reconciliation of the play's title.

Teresa and Janice--most particularly Janice--stand in opposition to the conventional wisdom about men and women, chafing at the lack of respect and identity the notions of traditional relationships afford to women.

Italian American Reconciliation doesn't rely so much on making relationships work as it explores why they may not, shifting the focus from the couple to the individual. As such, Shanley has constructed numerous lengthy discussions that often become introspective monologues for the troubled characters (and in which the play occasionally gets bogged down).

In any case, such inward exploration demands strong performances and, some faltering New Yawk accents aside, director Ross Nelson has elicited convincing turns from the cast. In particular, D'Agostino appealingly shows the vulnerable cracks in Aldo's confident veneer and Enos brings a genuine sense of conflict to the limited good-girl character of Teresa.

John Harrison York's cozy set captures the play's intimacy, and evinces a quaint sense of romance that never quite materializes in the play--and which wasn't meant to.

In some way, for each of characters, romantic reality can't live up to expectations, partly perhaps, because traditional male/female roles are no longer always well suited to reality. Even with such insights, Shanley doesn't offer a lightning bolt of certain wisdom or uproarious spoofing on the battle of the sexes, but instead gives us an amiable cautionary tale about taking nothing for granted, including oneself, in love.

Italian American Reconciliation plays Thursday-Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 7pm through Oct. 28 at City Lights Theater, 529 S. Second St., San Jose. Tickets are $18 Fri-Sat/$15 Thu and Sun. (408.295.4200)

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From the October 5-11, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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