BOTTOM LINE: It's the type of show that's played a hundred times before, but it's certainly funny in its own right and I'd imagine it's even more entertaining for those who have direct experience with Italian families.
They say you should write what you know and since the beginning of time one's family has provided fodder for stories of all kinds. Eccentric mother characters go especially far, so it's no surprise that playwright and performer Antoinette LaVecchia found inspiration in her Italian "ma."
Good Italian Daughter tells the story of LaVecchia, post-divorce, and her mother's coming-to-terms with her daughter's newly single status. Her mother is overbearing and concerned that maybe LaVecchia is too independent; it's hard for her mother to understand such a "different" lifestyle than what she's experienced. In her day, couples stayed together forever, even if they hated each other. And this all boils down to Mama LaVecchia's deep-rooted Italian heritage.
A one-woman show, Good Italian Daughter showcases both Antoinette and her mother, at various stages and conversations at the time when Antoinette has moved into a new apartment by herself after the divorce. LaVecchia is Italian-American (emphasis on American) and her mother is Italian-American (emphasis on Italian). Although their family moved to New York from Italy when Antoinette was three years old, her mother is quite resistant to things and ideas that aren't the Italian way. She nags because she loves, and her annoying quirks are reminiscent of any overbearing mother, Italian or otherwise. And that's really the unifying theme in Good Italian Daughter and what resonates with audiences: we all have moms, and we all love them for better or worse.
LaVecchia's performance shifts seamlessly from herself to her mother. She plays a handful of other characters too, as the story weaves in and out of the reality of her conversations with her mother (mostly over the divorce and the curtains her mother wants to make for the new apartment) to other dreamlike scenes that play up the idea that LaVecchia has always had a vivid imagination. In these scenes, she inhabits other people and creatures and lets the audience in on what's happening in her brain throughout this annoying motherly intrusion. Through these scenes we also get glimpses of her childhood and gain backstory into her Italian relationship with her Italian mother. There is a strong emphasis on what it means to be an Italian daughter, specifically, and the implications of being born into a big family that emphasizes close-knit relationships.
For a one-woman show, this production stands out for using wise staging, clever projections and well-designed lights. These elements fill out the play. Not that LaVecchia can't do it herself - certainly she's a ball of energy and many of her characters are hysterically random and over-the-top. When she becomes her mother though, you can see a sort of reverence in her performance. The production is nicely executed on all ends.
My only beef with Good Italian Daughter is that I've seen similar shows numerous times and I think creatively speaking, a story like this can be kind of a cop-out, mostly because it doesn't have any stakes or any action and the audience knows where it is going from reading the title. But that doesn't negate the fact that shows of this nature have a built-in audience and from a producing standpoint are probably a pretty sure thing. Good Italian Daughter is an entertaining production, I'm sure that's even truer for those with personal experience as Italian daughters. LaVecchia is charming and the play is engaging; I recommend this show for anyone with those requirements in a night at the theatre.
(How to Be a Good Italian Daughter (In Spite of Myself) plays through December 20 at The Studio at Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce Street. Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 7pm and Saturday and Sunday at 3pm. Tickets are $18 and are available at telecharge.com or by calling 800.432.7250. For more show info visit www.jonesstreetproductions.com.)