The Miracle at Naples
"To hell with my virginity!" With an opening exclamation like that, playwright David Grimm displays his hand and you know you're in for a raunchy and ribald night at the theatre. The Huntington even goes so far as to provide a rating: "V" for "Very Adult Comedy" and recommended for mature audiences. Let me add that I would also recommend it for audiences who want to laugh a lot and, perhaps, blush just a little. To be sure, there is nary an iota of subtlety in the flurry of one-liners, double-takes and canoodling, but if you like your comedy broad and your "broads" comedic, you won't be disappointed.
The Miracle at Naples
Huntington Theatre Company Artistic Director Peter DuBois makes his Boston directorial debut with the world premiere of Grimm's The Miracle at Naples, a play the two have been developing for almost three years, including a week-long workshop at the Huntington last summer. As a result of their extensive collaboration and shared sensibility, the playwright and director are on the same wavelength with regard to realizing the world of the play. Factor in the work of an outstanding design team andvoila!the Wimberly Theatre becomes a piazza in Naples, September 19, 1580.
On the annual date when a vial of solidified blood of the city's patron saint San Gennaro miraculously liquefies, promising continued prosperity and protection, Don Bertolino Fortunato and his commedia dell'arte troupe arrive in the town square. Hoping to find food, rest and love, not necessarily in that order, the road-weary travelers are thwarted on all fronts. The miracle does not occur, so there will be no feast and no performance until the luck changes. While awaiting the miracle, everyone's fancy turns to lust and love. The not-so-blushing virgin Flaminia, a wealthy merchant's daughter, and her nurse/caretaker Francescina battle for her virtue as the former seeks to satisfy her desires, while the latter tries to bar the door.
Two of Fortunato's actors, the degenerates Tristano and Matteo make it past the sentry to de-flower Flaminia, but her passion percolates for handsome Giancarlo, a poetic actor who returns her affection. Fortunato's daughter La Piccola (The Little One) pines for the earnest poet, but fears she may as well be invisible since she is petite, flat-chested and lacking a real name. Desperate for love, best friends Tristano and Matteo purchase a magic potion from the Don that is said to make women fall in love with them if they drink it, but it fuels their desire for each other. In an unfortunate turn of events, Giancarlo learns of the tryst of the trio, cooling his passion for Flaminia and firing up his vengeful fury toward his cohorts. While the younger set frolic, fume, fret and fight, Francescina and Fortunato renew their childhood acquaintance and sneak off to "stuff her ravioli." Eventually the troupe performs their commedia Pulcinella Goes to Hell despite their internal squabbling, but the spontaneous ending surprises all of the players.
In keeping with his underlying exploration of how we experience love in multiple forms, Grimm succeeds in mating most of his characters, although some of the pairings are unexpected. However, those plot twists emanate from seeds planted along the way, neatly tying things together in a comedic as well as intelligent way. One of the charms of the play is Grimm's mix of the commedia dell'arte with contemporary style, enabling him to express his views on love and sexuality loud and clear, yet using language that sounds familiar to the modern ear. Not so charming, there is an inordinate amount of shouting between the characters that becomes grating; Francescina shouts at Flaminia, Fortunato shouts at San Gennaro, and Lucy shouts at everyone. Between the yelling and the rapid-fire one-liners, it could be alternately titled Pulcinella Goes to the Borscht Belt!
Christina Pumariega is very funny and strong in the linchpin role of Flaminia. She evolves from pouty and whiny girl to flirtatious and infatuated free spirit, finally maturing overnight into someone who has learned the lessons taught by love gone awry. She connects seamlessly with each of the three young men who seek Flaminia's favors. Alfredo Narciso (Giancarlo) is ideal as the brooding, lovelorn deep thinker; Pedro Pascal (Tristano) combines just the right dose of swagger and charm in his portrayal; and Gregory Wooddell (Matteo) is light and refreshing as the dimwit, and surprisingly sweet in his touching loyalty to Tristano.
As Don Bertolino Fortunato, Dick Latessa carries a large load on his veteran shoulders and makes it look effortlessif this stage thing doesn't work out for him, he could take his act on the road to try standup comedy. Alma Cuervo brings to life the many sides of Francescina, from didactic caretaker to guardian of the miracle to sensual lover. Her droll delivery enables her to surprise with some of her bluer lines that seem out of character, yet become standard fare. Last but not least (except for her diminutive stature), Lucy DeVito lives up to her pedigree (she is the daughter of Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman) with impeccable timing and great expressionsdeadpan, flustered, annoyed and everything in between.
The Huntington flaunts its strengths in The Miracle at Naples with a fantastic set, costumes that are evocative of Renaissance Italy and an outstanding cast well-directed by DuBois. In cultivating this original work by playwright Grimm, they continue to pump blood into the American theatre and replenish the canon. As the commedia dell'arte faces extinction in the play, it parallels the challenges for arts in today's world and presages that keeping ahead of the curve with innovation may be one solution for survival. Salt heavily with sex, pepper liberally with laughs, and you've got a recipe for one miracle.
The Miracle at Naples, performances through May 9 at The Huntington's second stagethe Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street in Boston's South End. Box Office 617-266-0800 or www.huntingtontheatre.org.
Directed by Peter DuBois, Scenic Design by Alexander Dodge, Costume Design by Anita Yavich, Lighting Design by Rui Rita, Sound Design by Ben Emerson, Original Music by Peter Golub, Stage Manager Amy Weissenstein, Production Stage Manager Leslie Sears
Cast (in order of appearance):