Meghan Kennedy crams a lot into her coming-of-age drama, Napoli, Brooklyn – from child abuse and sadistic torture to a plane crash over New York and a downpour of Spanish onions.
But at its heart lies a troubled story of one immigrant family at odds with their new environment which is as relevant today as it was in 1960 when the play is set.
The fish-out-of-water story arc isn’t anything new but perhaps Kennedy’s treatment is.
However, as this revival, which has just opened at London’s Park Theatre shows, sometimes the direction of the arc goes off on a tangent when you don’t keep things simple.
The result is a bitty, though well-intentioned story, that is finely acted but over-plotted with too many characters and not enough for them to do.
Patriarch, and father of three daughters, Nic Muscolino is a sadistic bully who has taken a fist to his outspoken daughter, Vita, for her loose tongue.
The story opens just after mother, Luda, has sent her to a convent to recuperate and stay out of sight of her volatile father.
Youngest daughter, Francesca, is planning to run away and start a new life in Paris with her girlfriend, and poor, awkward, dumb Tina toils in a tile factory to supplement the family income.
Life in Brooklyn isn’t great. The girls have been raised as young Americans inside a strictly Italian Catholic household where they are expected to obey their father implicitly.
Attached to the periphery of the plot is Tina’s factory-worker colleague, Celia, who fights racial discrimination with a steely determination to better herself, and love-sick Irish butcher, Albert, who adores his favourite customer, Luda Muscolino.
No reason or explanation is given for Nic’s violent outbursts, much less the abuse of his wife.
Scots actor Robert Cavanah glowers and intimidates as the Italian émigré who misses his homeland but the character, like everyone in the play, has little depth.
Far from a heart-warming story of an Italian family embracing the American dream, we have a bleak and unforgiving tale of disappointment, regret and pain.
Despite an accent coach being attached to the Original Theatre Company production, I found it hard to listen to both Cavanah and fellow Scot, Madeleine Worrell as his wife.
Both sound like Italian stereotypes, each giving too much emphasis in over-pronouncing the end letter of each word and neither look credible as first generation Italians.
For me the most rounded and engaging figure is the robust Tina played with real feeling by Mona Goodwin.
Blue collar worker, Tina, is endearing and heart-breaking, with a lop-sided smile, coarse Brooklyn accent, and no frills attitude to life. She has sacrificed herself for the sake of the family but gets nothing in return.
Hannah Bristow as the gay Francesca and Georgia May Foote as her feisty sister, Vita, sparkle with vibrant and animated performances.
Yet it’s a pity that Stephen Hogan’s heartfelt turn as Albert the butcher isn’t better developed because he offers a glimmer of light in this story of doomed love.
Napoli, Brooklyn, takes a while to get going. Some scenes are too brief to let the narrative flow and engage.
But director, Lisa Blair, serves up the drama’s shock scenes with conviction, making the audience jump with an unexpected and dramatic end of Act One and a shocking outburst in Act Two.
Napoli, Brooklyn runs at the Park Theatre until July 13.
Meghan Kennedy tries to cram too much into this bleak story of an Italian family struggling with the American Dream.