By Sandi Durell
Dear Santa, All I want for Christmas is . . . a room of my own! And if you were Little Carl Morelli, age 10, living on the other side of Washington Square Park on Thompson Street in 1979 – after Stonewall but before AIDS, with his potty mouthed Italian-American family, in a one room roach-infested tenement, you might be wishing for the same thing.
Charles Messina’s hilarious new play, which he also directs, is being narrated by Adult Carl (Ralph Macchio) who is busily typing away on his laptop, sitting on the edge of the stage, telling his family’s story and inner-most secrets, as it all unfolds in the small one room cluttered apartment that serves as every room, filled with a lot of junk.
Dysfunctional family? Mamma Mia! The Morellis get an Academy Award. Dotty (Joli Tribuzio) is a foul-mouthed mamma who has a gambling problem, works in a bakery, steals a buck here and there, but loves, loves her two children Carl (Nico Bustamante) and his teen sister Jeannie (Kendra Jain) – whose dress code looks like she’s on the cusp of becoming a street walker. Papa Peter (Johnny Tammaro) not only has a gas problem, but you can tell he and Dotty get along great as they speak the same language, in heavy Calabrese dialect; f – this and f-that. In fact, so do the kids. Did 10 year olds use that language in every sentence in 1979? It’s toilet-mouth city!!!
Peter is telling Dotty that he got a call from the Nun, who is Principal of the Catholic School Carl attends, that the tuition bill has not been paid. Dotty goes into a rant – – “You call my house again an’ bother my husband, whose got a bad heart, I’ll take that f-in crucifix aroun’ your neck and shove it straight up your tw … like gangsters with habits on their heads . . .eatin’ filet mignon in a convent . . .”
And so it goes, as Little Carl tries to dissuade Adult Carl from writing this story, their back and forth repartee . . . “Up yours! . . . Up mine? Up yours!”
Seems that Dotty is really angry at being poor especially when Peter’s greedy sister Jean (Liza Vann) somehow wound up with five buildings on Carmine Street left to her by Peter’s father when he died, and not a cent to Pete. She’s livin’ in a mansion in Stony Brook with a rich, drunk husband and Pete says “ I got gabbadigotz!” Dotty’s so angry that she doesn’t give a second thought about stealing an Atari from Crazy Eddie’s because that’s the other thing her little Carl wants for Christmas.
Enter, Dotty’s gay brother Jackie (the incomparable Mario Cantone), who lives upstairs, yelling at and about a “transvestite fag “ neighbor “son-of-a-bitch bastid” . . . the fairy fuck wouldn’t come out. I had my Lil’ Pish in one hand, the hammer in the other. . . how they could rent an apartment in a family building to a drag queen freak is beyond me!” he complains. Lil’ Pish is Jackie’s beloved pooch.
And now you get the picture about the Morellis. In spite of it all, they love each other and go the gamut to protect one another. The play is a mix of humor and pathos, and an odd kinda family love and unity, filled with fast talking conversations that can sometimes make your head spin, and a lot of heart. The cast is A-1 and life just unfolds in the Morelli household as Adult Carl keeps writing, his memories alive with the laughs and craziness.
Kudos to Brian Dudkiewicz for creating a set that enhances the turmoil, aided by Catherine Siracusa’s costumes and it all comes alive with Michael A. Megliola’s lighting design.
A Room of My Own runs at the June Havoc Theater at Abingdon Theatre Company, 312 West 36 St. 212-352-3101 thru March 13th. Running time 95 minutes, no intermission
Photos: Ben Strothmann