White Widow opens with a live orchestra in the forefront, conducted by Martin Piecuch. Babbio the accordionist (played by Emilio Magnotta or Philip Franzese) starts the music from behind the house seats, cutting the darkness and the quiet by following a white tape trail on the carpet. Practical, but not exactly polished. The live music is a nice touch, but the musicians in the front draw attention away from the actors and drowns out some of their singing. Instruments are added one by one, and create a relaxing, Sicilian atmosphere until the well-executed stoning of Franciscu under Elizabeth Falk's impassioned direction takes place. This scene is right out of Shirley Jackson's “The Lottery.” The press materials as well as a few words of dialogue liken the stoning to the ones committed in the Bible, but apart from the predominantly Catholic environment and the nature of the alleged crime, the script doesn't elaborate on this comparison. The set design by Brandon Giles, consisting of three flimsy curtains that are pulled open or shut to reveal or hide different scenes, is multi-functional, but cheaply presented.
The introductory songs sung by the villagers are good harbingers of the plot and function like a Greek chorus, but the musical numbers in general are weakly written. For example, when Don Rosario (Michael Yeshion), is impressing upon his son Tonio (Jeremy Pasha) the importance of family, he sings “with your family you are strong, without your family you are weak.” Not exactly layered in mystery or poetry. Luckily, though, the plot of the show is.
When Nesti (Michael Padgett), a reporter from Rome, comes to Sicily to investigate Franciscu's death by stoning, mum seems to be the word of the village. Many guesses are lobbed back and forth involving Don Rosario and his henchmen Carmelo (Phil Olejack) and Malacarne (Claybourne Elder) until Nesti gets the strongest rumor from Mareschiallo (Thomas Rainey), the village marshall: Franciscu was stoned because he violated his daughter with Cinzia, Ornella, innocently and sweetly played by Kristin Katherine Shields. Therein lies the reason for Cinzia's callous behavior towards Ornella's father and for wearing white throughout the performance. Except, Ornella has no idea why her beloved father was murdered so cruelly and why Babbio's son Peppuzzo (Chris Gleim) won't give her the time of day. Little does Ornella know that her mom has been up to a lot more than bypassing the mourning period.
White Widow is a fine example of an unpredictable mystery with tons of entertainment value. The quality of the singing, although uneven throughout the 17-member cast, is particularly strong with Elizabeth Daniels as one of the villagers. Her hauntingly beautiful soprano vocals stand out amongst the ensemble, and are deserving of a larger stage and role. As the White Widow, Cassie Wooley's voice is full of emotion that is only matched by the passion that washes over her face. She masks her deceptions well, underneath the guise of a doting, mother lioness. What is also remarkable about her character is that she never gets entangled in her lies. Rather, at a most opportune moment, boldly reveals them. It's everyone else who gets mixed up in her treachery. There's even some comic relief, albeit most likely not intentional. When Babbio stabs Malacarme with what appears to be a retractable pen, it's cute and gets chuckles out of the audience, but doesn't have the disturbing impact that it should. Despite an incomplete ending, White Widow is engaging and displays hard work by a thoughtful ensemble. You may not come away with greater knowledge about Italy or organized crime, but you'll be glad that you were able to see some hungry performers.