The Inkwell Theatre presents a talented cast in its world premiere of Louise Munson’s “Luigi,” a two-and-a-half-hour tale of a family’s (most likely last) get-together with their patriarch in the winter of his years. There seems to be no real story to be told here. (Warning: If not fluent in Italian, a percentage of the story might be lost on the viewer.) Just seven characters interacting, telling stories, speaking in Italian — way more Italian than non-Italian-speaking theatergoers will comprehend.
The performance opens in David Mauer’s lovely, picturesque Tuscany cottage backyard set with Uncle Luigi (enthusiastically played in mostly Italian, then in some English, by the sprite and interestingly vibrant Ray Xifo). Luigi makes sporadic attempts at conversing with his 13-year-old niece Anna from America. As directed by Annie McVey, Erin McIntosh portrays Anna as a brooding, sullen, internalized, self-absorbed budding poet. Not the most interesting characters to open a play — the latter you don’t care for and the former you have trouble understanding. The others in this family reunion of sorts enter the backyard for family meals, evident by the loads of plates and food and table settings they bring in and take out to indicate each scene’s ending and beginning.
Luigi’s wife Mariella (Helen Duffy), in between attending to Luigi’s needs, attempts to regale the others with stories, but her son Paolo (Gian Franco Tordi) keeps interrupting her to tell her stories more expressively. Stephanie Sanchez, as Paolo’s girlfriend Diana, makes the most solid impression of the ensemble, giving off a strong Sofia Vergara vibe as she PDAs with Paolo, leads a yoga lesson for all and flirts with Anna’s other brother Max (Ryan Plourde). Sanchez vivaciously commands focus, even when just listening to the other characters speak, as she really listens. Plourde’s Max seems reminiscent of Ross from the TV classic “Friends,” a character some have found charming while others annoying. Max’s long hemming-and-hawing toast to Luigi would have been “Annoying Ross.” But Plourde does have a good stage presence and a nice voice and can play guitar. Anna and Max’s over-sensitive mother Maria (Nicola Bertram) takes offense at any comments from her children as she’s still adjusting to being deserted by her husband (Bastardo!).
The play’s ending, or coda, after a long pause, seems unnecessary. The film “Under the Tuscan Sun” starring Diane Lane presented a relaxing, languid, inviting postcard view of Tuscany. The slow pacing of “Luigi” doesn’t. Sometimes overhearing family conversations just doesn’t make for good theater. Scusate!
Bravo to the cast for their commitment to their roles in this world premiere.
—Gil Kaan, Culture Spot LA
Performances continue through Aug. 16, at the VS Theatre, 5453 W. Pico Blvd., LA 90010. Show times are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. For reservations, visit www.inkwelltheater.com.