Kevin Trotta as Mr. Fanuchi and Hugh Scully as Jake Montalto in Schooling Giacomo. Photo by Rick Klein.
BOTTOM LINE:“What’re ya gonna do?” “Fugetaboutit!” and “Thank you for coming.”
In the summer of 1970, a young Bronx boy learns the lessons that will make him the man he is today. Playwright Richard Edwin Knipe, Jr., glides back and forth between the past and the present in his entertaining drama, Schooling Giacomo. With flashbacks, funny but true stereotypes, and a talented cast, this humorous and heartwarming tale is a show worth seeing.
When the play opens with a scene from the past, the lovable Mafioso Vukey Fanuchi, (Kevin Trotta), educates a young Jake (ably played by young actor Jordan Adelson) that Giacomo is really Italian for James not Jake. The young boy is taught what days are best to go to confession–Thursday night, after 6 o’clock so the Father has time to digest and never on Friday night because that is when Monsignor Riley is in the confessional, and never confess your sins to an Irish priest! Moments of sincere bigotry like this are confronted with a witty hand throughout the play. The play then fast-forwards to a grown-up Giacomo, skillfully portrayed by Hugh Scully, who is raising his sickly daughter Abbey (Alanna Heraghty) by himself. Then again, maybe those lessons learned almost forty years ago are helping Jake raise his daughter more than he knows. The play continues in this fashion, with one moment from one scene inspiring a memory or a leap in time to the next.
Trotta is genuine in his portrayal of a classic Italian stereotype. Anyone who has an older immigrant family member, for whom English is not there first language, Italian or otherwise, will identify with Trotta’s performance and Knipe’s use of malaprop as well as an old-world code of conduct for this character. Completing the stereotype of the quintessential, loudmouthed, know-it-all, “fugetaboutit,” Italian-American family in New York are Jake’s uncles Dominic, (Andrew Lionetti), Charlie (George Petkanus), and Joe (Rick Apicella).
Lionetti is Larry to Petkanus and Apicella’s Moe and Curly as this comic trio commands every scene they are in. Rolls of laughter flooded the house as Charlie and Joe argued over “shit rye bread” from competing neighborhood diners and a particular type of “napkin” being the catalyst for a neighbor’s adultery, while Uncle Dominic does his best to guard young Jake’s ears from such inappropriate language and subjects. In a climactic moment in the play, and Jake’s life, the three uncles come together with Mr. Fanuchi in a scene that is as gripping as it is gut-busting.
Jake’s lessons may begin with the death of his father and then witnessing his Irish/German-American Mother Irene (Robin Peck) deal with alcoholism and her abusive boyfriend Pete Murphy (Kevin Nagle); they even include a street-guide practicum from unlikely teachers and a message from the grave by way of The Beatles' last album ever recorded, but they end with a lesson from the greatest teacher of all: life. Schooling Giacomo will not only will keep you highly entertained but you may just a learn a thing or two about what is important in your own life along the way.
*Note: This show was reviewed on March 13. The role of Vukey Fanuchi was played by Kevin Trotta, Giacomo (Young Jake) by Jordan Adelson, Dominic by Andrew Lionetti and Irene by Robin Peck. The above roles are double cast. On alternating nights, they are played by Joe DeSpirito, Justin Adelson, Glenn John Arnowitz and Marian McCabe, respectively.
(Schooling Giacomo plays at the American Theatre of Actors, 314 W. 54th St, between 8th & 9th Avenues. The show runs 2 hours with one 10 minute intermission. Performances run through April 26th, Thursday through Saturday at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are $35 and can be reserved by calling 888-220-6284, or by visiting www.schoolinggiacomo.com)