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Off Broadway Reviews

How Alfo Learned to Love

Theatre Review by Howard Miller

Christian Thom and Lauren Nicole Cipoletti
Photo by Carol Rosegg

How Alfo Learned to Love, Vincent Amelio's breezy family play centering on the world of an Italian bakery, is in the process of evolving from an earlier incarnation as a Fellini-inspired tale of a man who loves many women but cannot commit to any of them, toward becoming a heart-warming romantic comedy, the kind that allows the audience to exit the theater smiling, satisfied that true love has prevailed.

The play, now at 59E59 Theaters, has been revised and rewritten through at least a couple of productions since its appearance at the 2010 New York City International Fringe Festival under the slightly longer title How Alfo Learned to Love Women. The romantic comedy elements mostly work, especially in the hands of Christian Thom as Alfo and Lauren Nicole Cipoletti as Gianna, the love of his life. The scenes between the two of them are the strongest in the play, as sweet and genuine as you'd want them to be.

Alfo, a top-notch baker and the heir apparent of the family business, has been smitten with Gianna since puberty. Gianna, three years older, is friends with Alfo's sister Bellinda (Jenna D'Angelo). She finds Alfo cute and attractive, but dating is out of the question until more than two decades have passed and they reconnect long after they have gone their separate ways. When they do get together, Gianna is looking to finally settle down, while Alfo is still in the throes of serial dating.

There is plenty to explore within this relationship, but we are distracted by at least two other plot lines that are given as much weight as the blossoming love story. There is the story of Bellinda, who knows herself to be much better at running the bakery than Alfo and resents being shunted aside simply because she is a woman. And there is the story of Alfo's grandfather (Armen Garo), who lingers after his death to advise Alfo. He is neither a ghost nor a figment of Alfo's imagination; rather, he remains earthbound (or "stuck in traffic on the BQE," as he puts it) on a mission to earn his way into heaven.

There are terrific set pieces involving these characters, along with other, often quite funny scenes between Joanna Bonaro and Robert Funaro as Alfo's parents; between Alfo and his brother-in-law Tony (Dominick LaRuffa Jr.); and between Alfo and the parish priest (Nick DeSimone). All of the actors, under Daisy Walker's direction, shine brightly when given the spotlight.

But individual scenes strung together do not make for a complete play, and what should be as light as a sliver of Italian pastry carries with it the burden of too many plot threads, so that the cumulative effect is like that of having eaten an entire plateful of cannoli. Lots of delicious bites, but, really, it is too much to try to digest all of those empty calories at once.

How Alfo Learned to Love
Through January 3
59E59 Theaters-Theater B, 59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: TicketCentral

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