Napoli, Brooklyn

Theater, Drama
3 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Theater review by Helen Shaw

Napoli, Brooklyn is a new play that doesn’t feel like one. If its form seems like a throwback, though, it isn’t to the early 1960s, when Meghan Kennedy’s story is set, but to the 1980s, the golden age of the trauma-drama TV miniseries. The narrative recipe is as simple as it was in Jane Seymour’s heyday: Take a family of strong women, add an abusive father for conflict, season with historical tragedy and then garnish with uplift. In this case, the prose is sometimes purple and the exposition is sometimes bald. Yet thanks to sensitive performances, Kennedy’s mechanics frequently work as designed, cranking up the stakes and delivering vivid emotional moments on cue.

Nic Muscolino (Michael Rispoli) rules his Brooklyn roost with a clenched fist. He pummels his wife Luda (Alyssa Bresnahan) and terrorizes his tomboyish daughter Francesca (Jordyn DiNatale); he has coerced another daughter, stolid Tina (Lilli Kay), into dropping out of school to work, and has put his smart-mouthed oldest child, Vita (a charismatic Elise Kibler), in the hospital. There is sweetness around their Park Slope doorstep, but domestic sourness keeps them from tasting it. Francesca, for instance, is ecstatically in love with local good girl Connie (Juliet Brett), but it takes a major crisis—a horrific event, conveniently timed—to crack the family open enough for her to run free. Kennedy is good at sensation scenes; there is a searing confrontation between a broken Vita and her mother, and another between unstoppable Nic and unbreakable Tina. The rest of the text is weaker, but director Gordon Edelstein is blessed with a cast that evokes authentic feeling. They dance us around in that old melodrama two-step: They cry, we cry, and we all feel a little better.

Laura Pels Theatre (Off Broadway). By Meghan Kennedy. Directed by Gordon Edelstein. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs. One intermission. Through Sept 3.

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