Having to walk up four flights of stairs (the elevator was “out of service”) did not put me in a very good frame of mind to review the new comedy Schooling Giacomo, written and directed by Richard Edwin Knipe, Jr. which has just opened at the physically disabled, broken down (the men’s bathroom is dirty and the woman’s has no light bulb we were informed) The American Theatre of Actors at 314 West 54 Street – between 8th and 9th Avenues. There is also another production in the building that suffers the same fate.
More faithful fans you wouldn’t find anywhere. A busload of people from Rockland County came in to support Mr. Knipe at the performance I saw. Members of the same church, Veronica informed me. I loved Veronica. I wish I could say the same for the play. Although I liked it a lot – it’s pleasant and has some really funny scenes I don’t think it’s quite ready for the big time. It needs work. And you’ll just have to be very patient to have all the pieces of the plot come together in this two act production to pay off, so to speak.
We’re talking organized crime here. The Mob vs. the Irish. Mother vs. son. Uncles vs. uncles. A cross between The Sopranos and Neil Simon taking place in the Bronx circa 1970 and today and sometimes in between. Going back and forth in the mind of Jake (Hugh Scully) whose daughter Abbey (Alanna Heraghty) is in need of a heart transplant that she doesn’t want to have. Too risky. What has Jake learned from Vukey Fanuchi (Kevin Trotta) his three uncles, Dominic (Andrew Lionetti) Charlie (George Petkanus) and Joe (Rick Apicella) and his angry, drunken mom Irene (Robin Peck) and her live in, abusive lover Pete Murphy (Kevin Nagle)?
As fourteen year old Jake, Giacomo (Jordan Adelson) takes us back to Orchard Beach, his Bronx apartment and his memories of what transpired, having been given advice on church, confession, wakes and attempted murder we share the lessons of life he’s been exposed to. It is his past that enables him to come to grips with dealing with his present day problems with his daughter’s health.
The production tries too hard in making the past scenes parallel the present. It is not always successful. Farce one minute, very serious the next. Flashbacks. A young Abbey (Dominique Alvarado) dancing the Nutcracker taking place in Jake’s memory. A mysterious letter. The album Abbey Road. The question of an insurance policy. The way the mob would take care of things. With all this baggage, Jake has learned how to survive, picking up a few of his mother’s not so terrific traits in the process.
The acting is good all around, although at times it verges on caricature, you know the “fugetaboutit” syndrome. But it is at times hilarious. Even though the three uncles argue fiercely over the most trivial of things you feel the bond and love between them. Kevin Trotta turns in a wonderful performance as mob guide in the past and in the present. There are a lot of laughs and some heartfelt truths laid bare in Schooling Giacomo. It’s a pleasant time spent with some interesting characters. And I do mean characters! Veronica found it – “entertaining”.
www.schoolinggiacomo.com Tickets $35.00 through April 26th.
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