In high school, a film teacher drilled into me a lesson I think about often: When evaluating a work of art, always consider the social and political events surrounding its creation.
For instance, if you put 1970’s “Patton” and 1979’s “Apocalypse Now” in the context of Vietnam, you can see the shift of public opinion toward the war. One film was pro-war, the other against, but both were co-written by Francis Ford Coppola.
All of this to say that I can’t figure out why Virginia Repertory Theatre is staging “Saturday, Sunday, Monday” in 2016.
Penned in 1959 by Italian playwright Eduardo De Filippo, this dramatic comedy presents a large Neapolitan family composed of familiar stereotypes. There’s the bumbling but wise grandfather (Matthew Costello) and the annoying, boisterous Aunt Meme (Catherine Shaffner). There’s the dumb lug of a husband, Peppino (Wilbur Edwin Henry), the matriarch who demands complete obedience, Rosa (Kate Burke-Benedict), the effeminate nerd, Attilio (David Rogozenski), and the shrill, self-centered daughter, Giulianella (Noelle Franco).
The men are clueless, the women are petty, and the lives of the latter revolve around the kitchen and the dining room. When the show’s central conflict is revealed to stem from Peppino complimenting another woman’s cooking, it’s not exactly a shock. Comedy often relies on the common experiences of a culture, but at what point do you go beyond mocking stereotypes and begin endorsing them?
The family business is men’s clothing (in fiction, Italians are either clothiers, restaurateurs or Mafia) and while there’s some tiff between Peppino and his son Rocco (Mike Labbadia) about Rocco’s desire to open his own store, the real conflict is between Peppino and Rosa. For three months, Rosa has acted indifferently to Peppino, and instead of talking through the problem like any normal couple, Peppino accuses Rosa of infidelity at a family dinner.
As dated as it is painful to witness, this show generates few laughs and fewer enjoyable moments. Henry and Burke-Benedict aren’t exactly likeable under Carl Forsman’s direction, but De Filippo’s script should take much of the credit. Even local favorites like Shaffner and Audra Honaker (as Virginia, the maid) are able to bring only a handful of jokes to fruition.
Brian C. Barker’s Neapolitan set looks the part, but the actors are difficult to hear at times, especially Costello, with his accent and lower register.
Which brings me back to my original question: Why is a show with such little charm, so few laughs and so many dated concepts being staged in 2016? As this show begs for a food-related analogy, let’s just say it’s undercooked. S
Virginia Rep’s “Saturday, Sunday, Monday” plays through March 6 at the November Theatre, 114 W. Broad St. Visit va-rep.org or call 282-2620.