The simple candor and unruffled presence of performer Erin McIntosh is perhaps the most likable thing about Luigi, Louise Munson’s aggravatingly kitschy and predictable family drama. McIntosh portrays Anna, a thoughtful thirteen year old who reaches out to her elderly uncle (Ray Xifo, in the title role) for answers to the questions that vex her about life and love.
David Mauer’s set design and Derrick McDaniel’s lighting furnish, on a tiny proscenium, an effective backdrop for the story: a vacation cottage in Tuscany where, over endless glasses of wine, the family has reunited to eat, laugh and reminisce, though their gathering is overshadowed by the terminally ill Luigi’s imminent demise. Accompanying Anna are her unhappy mother Maria (Nicola Bertram), emotionally crippled since her husband’s desertion some years past, and her adult brother Max (Ryan Plourde), a down-to-earth guy impatient with the intellectual banter and flowery philosophizing from the European side of the family.
This latter group is made up of Luigi, brimming with joie de vivre despite his debilitated health, his son Paolo (Gian Franco Tordi), who (true to the cliche about Italians) makes lots of big gestures when he pontificates, Paolo’s beautiful long-time girlfriend Diana (Stephanie Sanchez) and the love of Luigi’s life, his nurturing wife, Mariella (Helen Duffy).]
These folks love to converse. But one problem throughout is the story’s lack of dramatic tension, compounded by a staginess that can be chalked up at least partly to the stilted intermingling of Italian and English in the dialogue. (“Va bene,” Luigi echoes over and over, even as a couple of the performers struggle with their Italian accents.) And while Max and Diana fool around a bit, and there’s the inevitable scene where the family gathers round the dying patriarch, really, not much happens.
An array of scenes, all pretty much the same, display Anna sitting outside when Luigi emerges from the house. They talk, he gets tired, and then he stumbles or is led back inside, his exit underscored by melancholy music. The building of a bridge between youth and age and the crafting of an indelible moment in life need not be depicted a half dozen times or more for us to get the point.
Under Annie McVey’s direction, there are a few saving graces — McIntosh’s performance, already mentioned, being prime. The appealing Plourde is also totally believable as an unpretentious guy dazzled by the disingenuous Diana, while Xifo is well-cast as the genial and life-loving Luigi.
VS Theatre, 5453 Pico Blvd., Mid-Wilshire, through August 16. www.inkwelltheater.com.
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