AN OFF-OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW
The applause from a sold-out audience enjoying the family friendly comedy “How Alfo Learned to Love Women” last week (at the National Opera-America Center) should reassure all Italian-American dramatists that you don’t need gangsters, molls, or mob bosses to draw a crowd. Like the character Guido Contini in “Nine” by Mario Fratti, New York City playwright Vincent Amelio’s frisky Alfo Idello has an addiction to women. The dilemma Alfo faces is that he must get married to inherit the family’s Italian bakery and continue the tradition of his grandfather, the founder of the Idello Bakery.
There are two protagonists to root for — — Alfo (Christian Thom) and Grandpa Idello (the magnificent scene-stealing Armen Garo) — — each driving the narrative, though Grandpa‘s goal seems to have more urgency. Fortunately, he’s wise enough to guide his confused grandson towards his childhood crush Gianna Gionfrida (Danielle Guldin, a screen actress making a vibrant stage debut).
Earlier versions of “How Alfo Learned to Love Women” had full productions at the Sanford Meisner Theater, at Adelphi University, and in the 2010 New York City International Fringe Festival. However, the two most fascinating characters, Grandpa and Gianna, are newcomers to the script, making it a romantic comedy.
A theatre review by Pamela Butler on August 17, 2010 revealed that the New York Fringe’s “Alfo” was “presented as a loose chronological biography, highlighting scenes from a young man’s life in a sort of psychological pursuit of some truth.” In that production four years ago, three actors portrayed Alfo: Bobby Lunden as ten-year-old Alfo, Erez Rose as his teenage self, and Tim Douglas as the 41-year-old grown-up. The New York Post hailed the play as “a terrific tale of family and baseball and life.”
Vincent Amelio explained, “I wrote ‘How Alfo Learned to Love Women’ in a burst of energy in 5 weeks when I was 37 years old and a lost, searching, confused bachelor living alone in my studio in Manhattan. The play healed me of my commitment issues. I simply wrote my pain and my passions into the play. Years later, I am married with a family.” In his view, “The play comes down to one statement: A man who adores women cannot find the one woman he is meant to love forever.”
Since the two new characters, Grandpa and Gianna, were so well-received, they will probably become mainstays as the script continues to evolve and coalesce. In its present form, rough patches abound. For instance, when the three Idello males have their only scene together, Sal Idello (Gordon Silva) explains to Alfo that his grandfather came to America with a few dollars but he had vision, however, what could have been a meaningful exchange deteriorates into slapstick; Grandpa’s lame asides — — “Vision? I wore glasses?” and “I wasn’t penniless! My brother lent me $5,000!” — — merely add dead air to a play that’s over two hours (and feels longer).
Certain intervals are engaging such as the pizza monologue by Alfo’s best buddy Tony Vallone (Peter Caporal). But other bits are predictable yawns such as a bad date (with actress Rebekah Madebach) and tepid moments with Alfo’s therapist Dr. Patti (Kelli K. Barnett). And most of the Idello family members are under-used such as Alfo’s sister Belinda (Sylvie Preston) and mother Maria (Joanna Bonaro); it might be insightful to know why the friends Belinda and Gianna had a falling out, and a scene showing Alfo discussing relationships with his mother could illuminate his problems with commitment. Although the romantic scenes with Gianna and Alfo strike a good note, these often drag on and wear out the charm.
Three cast members came to the project through the director Robert Funaro, whose multi-season run in HBO’s “Sopranos” elicited rave reviews. Funaro said, “I was inspired to direct Alfo by the Italian film director Federico Fellini’s film Amacord. Alfo will make you laugh and cry, which all great theater does. It’s a universal theme which resonates throughout time of the passing on of one family’s legacy to the next generation. Yet more importantly without someone to love, Alfo realizes he has nothing to live for.”
Joanna Bonaro was introduced to Funaro by Vincent Pastore, who played Salvatore “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero on the HBO crime family hit; in 2012 they had worked together in “Saved by the Pole,” an original web series. In addition to her recent stage work in Manhattan in “Diamond Lil” and “Alfo,” the versatile actress has been seen this year during primetime in “Black Box” and on HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire,” and she has taped episodes for “Mozart in the Jungle,” a mini-series “Show Me a Hero,” and other co-starring roles. Bonaro enjoyed the way Amelio’s play portrays blue collar individuals and focuses on family relationships.
Since the plan is to bring this production to an Off-Broadway residence in the coming months, if you missed “Alfo’s” final performance on November 6, 2014, look for its next outing.
Web Site for the show: http://www.howalfolearnedtolovewomen.com/home.html