Monday, May 31, 2004

The Sweepers (Ensemble Theatre)

‘THE SWEEPERS’ leaves much under the rug at Ensemble

It is both ironic and appropriate that on the weekend that the memorial dedicated to those who gave their lives in World War II, Ensemble Theatre opened their run of the Cleveland premiere of ‘THE SWEEPERS.’ The play centers on the final weeks of World War II.

John Picardi’s script is the first in a proposed series of ten plays focusing on the Italian American experience in the USA. He plans to write one for each of the decades in the 20th century.

In ‘THE SWEEPERS’ Picardi examines the problems created by the war and the effect on three life-long Boston Italian-American friends. Each of the ladies must face not only the trio’s relational issues and upholding the “Italian way,” but her own troubles. Dotty (Tracey Field) must deal with a husband in a mental hospital and her son at war. Mary (Meg Kelly Schroeder) must adjust to living life alone while her husband and son fight on the front lines in the Pacific. Bella (Jean Zarzour) fights her battles at home, dealing with her half-Irish lawyer son (James Savage Jr.) and the upper-crust Italian young woman (Jennifer Clifford) he has chosen to marry.

‘THE SWEEPERS’ is not a great play. Its plot twists are predictable, its characters too formulaic, and the writing leaves the viewer out of the loop...never sucking us into the action. In spite of this Picardi does give a glimpse into Italian American traditions and the binding relationships brought about by life-long friendships.

In its Off-Broadway run the play received favorable reviews. The plaudits were for the performances more than for the vehicle. Unfortunately, the Ensemble production misses the strong acting aspects.

Director Lucia Colombi doesn’t get her cast beyond surface level performances. The characters are not real. They need to be real. They need to be true Italian Americans, true people living a series of experiences. Emotions were feigned, not experienced. We need to feel with them and for them. Not so!

This is one play that requires each of the performers to have a clear verbal sound. These are people who have a deep connection with Boston and the Italian culture. There is a sound cadence that is required to create the reality. Not one member of the cast consistently had it.

On paper this was an ideal cast. Three of the actresses are members of Equity, the professional actor’s union. The others have extensive experience. It can only be assumed with proper directing they should have been able to make this, in spite of the script, a compelling evening of theatre.

Applause to Ray Beach and Stephen Vasse-Hansell for their excellent set design and Melanie Guzman on her period correct costumes.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: It’s a shame that Ms. Columbi couldn’t pull off the play with more professionalism. She’ll get another chance next year when Ensemble does the second of Picardi’s plays. Let’s hope the results are better.