When I was graciously invited to see John Patrick Shanley’s Italian American Reconciliation at Nyack’s Elmwood Playhouse, I must admit my initial skepticism. Though I had been impressed by Clybourne Park, Elmwood’s second production of their 76th season and the first show I had the pleasure to see there, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this mouthful of a title. As the lights began to dim, I envisioned hastily drawn caricatures of Italian Americans, likely bickering, eventually hugging it out over heaping plates of pasta fagioli. When they came up, however, I found myself moved by a play that, at its core, explores how much we all yearn to love and be loved in return.
Described by director Peter Garruba as part slice-of-life, part comic folktale, Italian American Reconciliation is a story that revolves around perennial bachelor Aldo Scalicki (played by John Carlos Lefkowitz) and his best friend Huey Maximillian Bonfigliano (Paul Halley). Huey is facing a dilemma: he wants his ex-wife Janice (Sierra Lidén) back…despite having a lovely new girlfriend, Teresa (NormaJean Pfautsch), who works at the local Soup House with neighborhood matron Aunt May (Debbie Buchsbaum). Unlike his ex-wife, Teresa does not treat Huey poorly, nor has she ever shot his dog—or him. As such, Aldo thinks his friend has gone crazy and tells him so. Still, Huey is adamant that “everything is over for me unless I go back and fix this broken place.” Taking pity on the lovelorn Huey, Aldo agrees to help…but with his own plan. Chaos, hilarity and heartbreak ensue, eventually leading to an imperfect form of self-acceptance for certain characters—in other words, a “reconciliation.”
The nature of relationships, both with self and with others, is the axis on which Italian American Reconciliation turns. How do we cope when new self-realizations affect the ones we love? How do we deal with the speediness (or lack thereof) with which these realizations come to pass? What does it take to truly see one other? While IAR is undoubtedly comedic, the questions that bubble beneath its surface transform this play from a boisterous romp into a deeply human experience, despite its tall tale status. Led by standout star Lefkowitz, this talented Elmwood Playhouse cast brings Shanley’s story to life, emphasizing the importance of keeping an open heart and creating an experience you don’t want to miss.