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Fighting for happiness in Little Italy

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Entertainment,Music,Barbara Mackay

Sometimes the most far-fetched situations make for the best drama. Think of Cyrano de Bergerac pretending to be someone he's not. Think of any of Shakespeare's comedies in which the plot can't move ahead without someone being in disguise.

John Patrick Shanley's "Italian American Reconciliation," at 1st Stage, starts out as this kind of play, where an outrageous situation kick starts the action. In this comedy directed by Michael Chamberlin, Huey (Matt Dewberry) is divorced from the shrewish Janice (Anne Nottage) and has been dating gentle Teresa (Dani Stoller).

But Huey inexplicably feels he can't live without the woman who tried to kill him and decides to reconcile with Janice. He begs his best friend Aldo (Drew Kopas) to plead his cause with her. Aldo approaches Janice and receives her wrath and a little flirtation.

In addition to being Huey's long-suffering friend, Aldo is the narrator of the piece, introducing the characters before they appear, setting the stage for the drama that takes place in present day Manhattan's Little Italy. Kopas is well-suited to the role of Aldo, a lanky wise-guy who seems to dance through life.

Onstage
'Italian American Reconciliation'
Where: 1st Stage, 1524 Spring Hill Road, McLean
When: Through Feb. 24
Info: $15 to $25; 703-854-1856; 1stsstagetysons.org

It is through his eyes that Huey's bizarre behavior is seen. He is the moral filter who tries to keep Huey from making the ultimate mistake: dumping sweet, loving Teresa, in order to go back to Janice, who shot Huey's dog when she was trying to shoot Huey himself.

Dewberry is equally well-cast as the hapless Huey, who first appears distraught, wearing red and white striped boxers, a blue bathrobe and sneakers (the costumes, by LeVonne Lindsay, are fanciful). When Huey returns to woo Janice, he is more put together. Gone is the bathrobe, replaced by a velvet jacket.

Women play an important role in "Italian American Reconciliation." Stoller is excellent as the ambivalent Teresa, who wants to break up with Huey, yet loves him. Suzanne Richard is perfect as Aunt May, an acute observer and wise counsel to Aldo and Teresa. Nottage plays the harridan Janice well, letting occasional flashes of sympathy for Huey flash through her anger, though her accent slips well outside Little Italy.

"Italian American Reconciliation" is in places a good play about friendship, love, anger and the unpredictable in human nature. Although it's not as well-structured and powerful as Shanley's best works ("Moonstruck," "Doubt"), Shanley leaves the viewer knowing that when it comes to human nature, there will always be more questions than answers. This 1st Stage production nicely emphasizes the uncertainties.

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