Hold tight to the solid skin of an onion, perhaps a Vidalia from Georgia or a Bermuda that started in the Canary Islands. If you cut it, you are sure to get a stinging sensation in your eyes and uncontrollable tears due to a release of a volatile gas that irritates. While onions are excellent for food flavoring, it is unlikely that you will have the same visceral relationship with an onion that Luda Muscolino does: she prays to her onions. To discover why Luda prays to onions rather than to her Catholic god, please come to Long Wharf Theatre before Sunday, March 12 to witness the involving and touchingly real world premiere of "Napoli, Brooklyn" by Meghan Kennedy and help peel the layers back revealingly of that intriguing vegetable yourself.
Alyssa Bresnahan's Luda is strength that is continually tested. Think Steel Magnolia strong. She once loved her husband Nic with whom she bore three daughters but life has not been easy, with the economy in 1960's Brooklyn a struggle. She manages by singing opera in her kitchen while she prepares meals, using the best cuts of meat she can afford to buy at the neighbor butcher shop run by Albert Duffy (Graham Winton), a man who understands, admires and even loves her.
Her husband Nic, brought to brutal and demanding life by Jason Kolotouros, is beset by his own demons and makes the household quake with his temperamental commands. He stowawayed on a ship to come to this land of promise and his unhappiness is a curse he places heavily on all the members of his family. While Luda takes the brunt of his brutality, his daughters Tina (Christina Pumariega), Vita (Carolyn Braver) and the youngest, Francesca (Jordyn DiNatale) endure their share of his punishment. To protect their mother, they often enter the fray and are injured by his overbearing physicality.
Vita for daring to protect her sister gets sent to a nunnery, Tina is forced to leave school and work in a box factory to help the finances and Francesca plots to leave home with her more than friend Connie (Ryann Shane) to escape to France for the freedom to explore their budding love as teens. A searing event crashes into their lives that changes their destinies, and brings a black friend from Tina's work (Shrine Babb) into their apartment to bear witness to their problems. The cast is uniformly excellent, causing us to care what fates they endure and trying to cheer them on to a sense of triumph over their hardships. This is an immigrant story of hope where faith is tested and love and hate are stirred in a huge pot on the stove to the point of boiling over. Director Gordon Edelstein is the master chef who takes this melting pot of emotions and brings them to a satisfying simmer. This production will move to the Roundabout Theatre Company in New York.
For tickets ($34.50-99.50), call Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven at 203-787-4282 or online at www.longwharf.org. Performances are Tuesday at 7 p.m., Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.
Come see if Luda will recover her magic and her faith if and when onions allow her once again to produce tears and to cry.