It’s 1979 in Greenwich Village and we are in the one room apartment of the Morelli family. The Morelli’s are your typical Italian American Catholic family, except maybe for the fact that they are dirt poor, which makes things a little more…..colorful, if you will. Christmas is coming, and it looks like everyone is looking for a lump of coal by the sound of the F bombs that are flying from the mouths of adults and children alike. This is ridiculously funny, with a very sensitive undertone; so let me tell you how it goes.
Ralph Macchio is the adult Carl Morelli who has grown up to be a writer, and serves as the narrator of this play about the story of his life. The backdrop (scenic design: Brian Dudkiewicz, props design: Addison Heeren) is the very drab, shabby, and clumsily decorated one room apartment where Carl grew up. There is a full and twin sofa bed, the mandatory Sacred Heart of Jesus photo, some sadly strung Christmas lights and a Christmas tree that makes Charlie Brown's look happy. In addition to the young Carl (Nico Bustamante), inhabitants are his mother Dotty (Joli Tribuzio), father Peter (Johnny Tammaro) and older sister Jeannie (Kendra Jain) all living together in one room. Upstairs lives Dotty’s gay brother Jackie (Mario Cantone) with his dog Pish.
If you’ve ever spent a Sunday afternoon with an Italian family as such, which I have many a time, you will immediately get the humor. Mom and Dad are in a sexless marriage and are going at it most of the time. The big problem is money or the lack of it. Dad is a schlump. He had a heart attack at 40 and can’t work, but he does make one mean meatball, and has no trouble in grabbing whatever money he can on the sly and spending it. Mom works in an Italian bakery, and has her hand in the till to make ends meet and lives in fear of getting caught and fired. In addition she plays in high stakes poker games, and when that fails, it’s gay uncle Jackie that comes to the rescue. They are so far behind on Catholic school tuition that Carl is about to be expelled. They deal with this by trashing the system with comments like ‘the nuns ain’t nothing but gangsters in habits’. And that’s just the tip of the rosary. The slurs don’t stop, but those were the times, and I’m sure none of these things happen now in this age of political correctness (a-hem, clears throat)
So here is this struggling family trying to figure out where they are going to find enough money to pay the school and buy the kids Christmas presents. The letter that little Carl has written to Santa will pull at your heartstrings when he asks for an Atari game and a room of his own. It sure breaks Dotty’s heart. This moves her to desperation and she makes young Carl write a letter to his well to-do aunt Jean (Liza Van), Peter’s estranged and much loathed sister. We learn why Jean has been absent all these years and other big surprises are in store when she shows up at the door on New Year’s Eve. This play is an affirmation that we can’t change the past, as much as we sometimes would like to remember it in a different way.
This cast is crackling with wit. No one can do the F word (F@#k and funny) and gay better than the naturally gay and Italian Cantone. Macchio was a wonderful calm in the storm of craziness that was happening on the stage. Tribuzio is perfect as the fiery redheaded Italian mama and delivers dialogue like a New York grown truck driver. Nico Bustamante appears to have a burgeoning career ahead of him if this is any sign of what is to come. The 9 year old was adorable, and a natural in the role of the agitated adolescent who can tell the whole family to f@#k off like a champ. Nico and Ralph as the older and younger Carl have sidebars with each other throughout the play where the action will freeze around them, and they will start arguing about facts in the story. It was a welcome added dimension and was a very interesting twist to this story written and directed by Charles Messina. Bravo to Abingdon’s new Artistic Director, Tony Speciale, who is off to a great start.
A Room of My Own only runs through March 13th so don’t miss your chance to see Ralph Macchio, Mario Cantone and the rest of this wonderful cast. For tickets and more information go to their website and visit my website for available discounts here. -Thisbroadsway 2/28/16