How to Be a Good Italian Daughter
nytheatre.com review by Maggie Cino
October 8, 2009
How to Be a Good Italian Daughter (In Spite of Myself) begins when the recently divorced Antoinette moves into her own apartment. Her well-meaning but overbearing Italian immigrant mother pesters her with phone calls, igniting Antoinette's fantasies and memories about their relationship. It's a one-woman theatrical extravaganza that has more show than tell.
Antoinette LaVecchia's mobile face and articulate body morph from character to character. In moments that are more playful than crude, she uses her hands as a kind of puppet to play her own vagina and mimes defecating as she plays the devil. In less extreme moments, we meet the character Antoinette, her mother Maria, an aging tarot card reader, a seductive Italian man, and a young girl. LaVecchia also sings, climbs poles, and does everything within her considerable power to entertain us.
The production sparkles under Ted Sod's playful direction. Michael V. Moore's set is the moving boxes in Antoinette's new apartment, a metaphor for her unpacked emotions about her mother. Traci Klainer's lights shift the roof of the world from sunshine to starlight and everything in between. Daniel James Cole's costumes let LaVecchia parade movie starlets and Italian seducers around the stage.
But despite the excellent presentation, the play only skims the surface of some thought-provoking issues. At one point Maria says, "I just wan' my daughter to have a rich husband, lots of children, so I no have to worry an' be scared all the time." But this sentiment is never fully explored. Maria and Antoinette's phone conversations repeat throughout the play; Maria complains that Antoinette never listens to her, Antoinette complains that Maria is overbearing and won't leave her alone. They argue about the kind of curtains Antoinette should have in her new apartment. The cycle is broken when a tarot card reader tells her mother to give her daughter the curtains she wants; this leads Antoinette to the realization that her mother is just a small person trying to protect her. But the revelations happen quickly and the emotional motivation for them is unclear. I left the theater under the impression that Antoinette's solution to the complex question of her mother is to humor her.
It's a beautiful vehicle skillfully presented, but something is missing from the experience, in spite of itself.