Albert Innaurato is a witty and charming man, an inexhaustible fount of operatic and other anecdotes, the author of some perhaps lopsided but quirkily droll plays (I particularly recall Gemini with chuckling pleasure), and, besides, a friend of mine. Which is why I feel devastated about reporting that the play’s revival by Second Stage left me unmoved amid surrounding salvos of laughter.
Has the work aged badly in 22 years, or have I? Has the more discriminating audience’s sense of humor changed in two decades? Has Innaurato had too many unconscious imitators or literary doppelgängers retroactively sapping his originality? However that may be, I waited vainly for the hard Gemini flame to kick in.
We are in the backyards of two maladjusted households in adjoining row houses in a shabby South Philadelphia Italian-American neighborhood. In one of them, motherless, live blue-collar Fran Geminiani and his son, Francis, a scholarship senior at Harvard and passionate opera buff. In the other, fatherless, dwell blowsy and horny Bunny Weinberger, née Murphy, and her asthmatic 16-year-old, Herschel, whom she considers a genius, though he seems closer to an idiot savant, obsessed with trains, trolleys, and transportational paraphernalia. Then who should drop in as uninvited celebrants on the eve of Francis’s 21st birthday but Judith Hastings, the beautiful Radcliffe classmate in love with our hero, and her brother, Randy, a Harvard freshman?
Fran warmly welcomes Judith, as a potential savior of his son, about whose sexuality he is not unfoundedly worried. Bunny lusts for and makes playful advances to Randy, while lonely Herschel, seeing in the youth a desired disciple, showers him with his various collections and drags him off to sundry railroad and trolley yards. From there on, all farcical hell breaks loose, punctuated with moments of gravity and poignancy. It may be that the gifted director, Mark Brokaw, overshoots the mark here; for once, he allows comic invention to run riot at the expense of deeper feeling.
Casting, too, is problematic. As Francis, Brian Mysliwy has a certain stolidity that belies Judith’s adoration. As Judith, Sarah Rafferty is nowhere near “exceedingly, perhaps even intimidatingly, beautiful,” nor even very winning. Thomas Sadoski’s Randy is not my idea of the “quintessential, very handsome Wasp,” and even has something inappropriately girlish about him. Joseph Siravo plays the effusively macho father repetitiously, and with a bulging-eyed grin I can describe only as ocular lockjaw. However, Linda Hart’s Bunny, Michael Kendrick’s Herschel, and Julie Boyd’s Lucille deliver the needed goods.