By: Isa Goldberg
In Napoli, Brooklyn, at the Roundabout’s Laura Pels Theatre, playwright Meghan Kennedy creates the vivid ongoing life of Brooklyn in the1960’s. Cut out from the street of Brooklyn brownstones, the Muscolino’s apartment, designed by Eugene Lee, sits center stage, like a cave. Living in those shadows, in these tight quarters, regardless of its alluringly warm colors, creates the setting for their entrapment.
The sounds that surround us, designed by Fitz Patton, are as intense as the smell of cooking sauce. The neighbors are fighting, the opera from the upstairs apartment is blasting, and Mrs. Muscolino is speaking to God in her heavy Italian accent, as she peels an onion. Shades of Neil Simon’s Brooklyn stories, and Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge infuse Kennedy’s stinging sense of realism. Yet her voice is unique, and focused around the family’s three daughters, whose chance for survival, in a home dominated by their rough Napolese father, is hard to imagine. As played by Michael Rispoli he is a ferocious man who, like Stanley Kowalski, is something of a barbarian trying to exist in a civilized world. Being surrounded by a household of women isn’t helping.
To that end, director Gordon Edelstein has built a tight ensemble, with Alyssa Bresnahan as the all forgiving matriarch, who raises their three daughters. Vita (Elise Kibler), who her father has locked away in a convent, Tina (Lilli Kay), who brings the first “colored person” into their home, and the youngest, Francesca (Jordyn DiNatale), the closest thing to a boy her father has, she claims. Truly, the love scene, which she and her adolescent girlfriend mime, creates one of the play’s most tender moments.
Still, Kennedy sets her sites well beyond the family drama, and the violence that infuses it. At the center of the action, the Brooklyn plane crash of 1960, in which two airliners, colliding in mid-air crash over their neighborhood, leaving 132 passengers and civilians killed, creates the turning point to the domestic drama. Finally, the violence is bursting out all over. Spousal and child abuse, racial conflicts, the struggles of immigrant families, lesbianism, too – they’re all packed into this tragic web.
Fortunately, in the end, Mrs. Muscolino emerges from those shadows, by allowing her children to be who they are. “You’re a woman, and you’re free,” she tells Connie (Juliet Brett), Francesca’s beloved girlfriend. It’s an incredibly uplifting moment, one that does not arrive easily!
Napoli, Brooklyn ****
Roundabout Theatre Company
Laura Pels Theatre
111 West 46th Street 212 719-1300 Photography: Joan Marcus