Susan Granger’s review of “Napoli, Brooklyn” (Roundabout Theatre Company: Laura Pels Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre – off-Broadway)
Tolstoy once wrote, “Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Set in New York City during the 1960s, Meghan Kennedy’s domestic drama revolves around the Muscolino family: an Italian couple and their three American-born daughters.
The parents, Luda (Alyssa Bresnahan) and Nic (Michael Rispoli), are caught between their Sicilian culture with its Old World values and the freedom of the New World, epitomized by Brooklyn.
As the play opens, their middle daughter, Vita (Elise Kibler), has been dispatched to a convent after brutish Nic savagely beat her when she tried to protect her younger sister, feisty Francesca (Jordyn DiNatale), who has chopped off her long hair. And self-sacrificing Tina (Lily Kaye),the eldest daughter, feels guilty for not protecting Francesca.
Then there’s Albert Duffy (Ejik Lochtefeld), the kindly, courteous, Irish butcher who secretly adores Luda, and his adolescent daughter Connie (Juliet Brett), who bonds with her BFF Francesca. Plus gentle Celia Jones (Shirine Babb), an African-American co-worker who befriends awkward Tina.
Commissioned by the Roundabout Theatre, playwright Meghan Kennedy (“Too Much, Too Much, Too Many”) drew from the recollections of her Italian-American mother who grew up in Brooklyn in the 1960s. In interviews, Meghan Kennedy has alluded to how girls born to immigrants “had to fight so hard to find their voices, and even harder to keep them intact.”
Character development is what propels this immigrant experience, as each participant poignantly changes within the context of the play when a real-life disaster rocks their Park Slope neighborhood.
As long-suffering Luda, Alyssa Bresnahan is outstanding, expressing her love for her family through her cooking, praying to an onion because God seems to be ignoring her poignant entreaties.
Under the direction of Gordon Edelstein, the acting ensemble is superb, and Edelstein handles the episodic, often overwrought drama with finesse, working in conjunction with set designer Eugene Lee, lighting designer Ben Stanton, costumer Jane Greenwood and sound specialist Fitz Patton.
“Napoli, Brooklyn” plays a limited engagement Off-Broadway through September 3, 2017. Tickets are available online at roundabouttheatre.org or by calling 212-719-1300.