- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 17, 2009

NEW YORK (AP) - You can take the boy out of the Bronx, but you can’t take the Bronx out of the boy, nor would you want to.

This and many other life-affirming lessons are artfully conveyed in “Schooling Giacomo,” a bittersweet coming-of-age comedy warmly presented by off-Broadway’s New York Dramedies Company. (It’s on view at the American Theatre of Actors through April 26.)

Written and directed by Richard Edwin Knipe Jr., the play moves fluidly between two seminal time periods in Jake (Giacomo) Montalto’s life. Jordan Adelson, alternating in performances with Justin Adelson, gives an appealing performance as 12-year-old Giacomo during an eventful 1970 Bronx summer.

Middle-aged Jake (Hugh Scully), a single father and teacher, recalls scenes from that long-ago, tumultuous summer as he struggles with medical issues regarding his seriously ill teenage daughter, Abbey, affectingly played by Alanna Heraghty.

Adelson and Scully are both strongly effective in 18 vignettes that illustrate, often humorously, how we are informed for better or worse by people and events in our childhood. Dominique Alvarado is charming as a younger, healthy Abbey dancing through adult Jake’s memories.

Young Jake is surrounded by a neighborhood of real characters, mostly Italian Catholics, friends and relatives who constantly give him advice _ some of it actually useful _ on how to deal with life. The entire ensemble sounds pitch-perfect, complete with Bronx and Italian inflections and expressions. (Yes, they do say “fuggedaboudit”).

After the sudden death of teenage Jake’s absent father, his oft drunken mother, Irene, inexplicably brings a bullying stranger (Kevin Nagle) into the home. Irene, played with loving, weary sorrow by Robin Peck (who alternates with Marian McCabe) then forces Jake to go live with his Uncle Dominic (Andrew Lionetti, alternating with Glenn John Arnowitz.) This rejection haunts the adult Jake.

Dominic is the sensible leader of a trio of comedically argumentative uncles. George Petkanus as Charlie and Rick Apicella as Joe are know-it-all brothers who bicker like schoolboys, and gossip inappropriately about the neighbors in front of Jake.

When Jake’s life takes a few tragic turns during the summer, these uncles provide comic relief.

Also advising Jake is Vukey Fanuchi, in a touching performance by Kevin Trotta (alternating with Joe DeSpirito). Although he’s a gangster, “Mister F” is a kind mentor who instructs young Jake on important matters, such as how to appear pious in church and which priest to confess to in order to receive the least penance.

With swift, subtle prop changes and staging, the very small stage becomes numerous locales along with Jake’s childhood family kitchen. Dana Kenn’s thoughtful, economical set design is aided by Donald Kimmel’s lighting and atmospheric sound by Xena Petkanus.

“Schooling Giacomo” is a wonderfully realized memory play that reminds us how family imprints itself on our lives.

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