by David Lally · February 10, 2015
Robert Cuccioli, David McElwee | Jeremy Daniel
Snow Orchid is a play about a warring Italian-American family in Brooklyn. It is also a play about a father who has had a mental breakdown, a mother who has agoraphobia and cannot leave the house, a son who has an unnatural relationship with his mother, a son who is almost completely ignored, a son with a shameful secret, and an abusive husband. If this is beginning to sound like a melting pot of a show, it is. And though the title may sound cryptic, it is explained in this turgid family drama.
In 1964 Brooklyn, Rocco Lazarra (Robert Cuccioli) is returning home to face his family, a year after having suffered a nervous breakdown. His fiery wife, Filumena (Angelina Fiordellisi), hasn't left their house since before his departure, and longs for her native Sicily. Their two sons -- Sebbie (Stephen Plunkett), a car mechanic, and Blaise (David McElwee), a college dropout -- urge her to get out of the house, but with no success. Sebbie longs to escape his complicated relationship with his mother, while his younger brother Blaise tries to earn the motherly love Filumena has never shown him. And now, with Rocco's long-anticipated return, the family fears his temperament and instability will once again throw their lives into chaos.
The story is one we have seen before and there is a lot going on here by playwright Joe Pintauro. Unfortunately, he trots out a lot of issues but either spends too much time on some and not enough time on others, which begs the question, then why introduce them at all? I don't know what the reasoning was behind Miranda Theatre Company reviving this play, other than to give the actors involved a workout. The play is just built on too many contrivances and tries too hard to be a meaningful drama. It is striving to be Long Days' Journey Into Night but what makes the Tyrone family inherently fascinating, does not work for the Lazarras.
There is no subtlety and shading to any of the characters. Everything seems to be written to be played at the highest level of dramatic intensity yet the play lacks any momentum to support it. So what ends up happening is a series of arguments that all have a hollow ring to them. The few credible moments of the play end up dissolving into cliché. It is two hours and fifteen minutes of arguing that only stops because Sebbie leaves home.
Not only is the play the problem here, but the direction by Valentina Fratti is aimless. Characters cross stage for no reason and scenes that are on a set by Patrick Rizzoti, that is cramped, don’t have any room to breathe. The Lion Theatre’s stage cannot really accommodate a play that takes place in several rooms without set changes and because of that, the stage has to play host to several rooms at once including a living room, dining room and two bedrooms. The two bedrooms are suggested by a few set pieces on each side of the front of the stage. As a result, it becomes unclear as to who is supposed to be in what room at what time at certain points in the play. So I was left wondering, is the father overhearing this conversation between mother and son because he looks like he is standing right outside the doorway or is he supposed to still be in the living room? Is Blaise eavesdropping on his father and mother? Did Blaise witness his father and brother’s fight? It also doesn’t help that one of the entrances for one room has to double for another room so there is no clear delineation where one room ends and another begins. A little more careful direction and that issue could have easily been resolved.
It is a credit to Fiordellisi, Cuccioli and McElwee that they downplay most of the explosive parts and are able to soften the stridency a bit. McElwee, especially, does a fine job with a part that isn’t very well-defined. I wish I could say the same for Plunkett, who seems to be acting in another play, reveling in shouting at the top of his lungs at every other character, which just ends up making his character very unsympathetic. How can we feel for a character who accuses everyone of being lousy when he is just as lousy as them?