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Reviewed 2002-09-07: Filumena wants a family. Well, OK, she already has one, but they don't know it yet. Her husband of 25 years married this Neopolitan woman on her deathbed -- but of course she didn't die. When he repudiates her, she trots out her three sons and promises that one of them is his -- but he'll have to stay married to her and adopt them all. A plot like that could set back the feminist cause, I think, but the comedy by Italian playwright Eduardo de Filippo (translated by Timberlake Wertenbaker) dates from 1946, so it's pre-feminist to begin with.
In the production directed by Andrei Malaev Babel at the Stanislavsky Theater Studio, Washington, DC, the actors attempt to emulate the Commedia dell'arte style of comedy. I can't say if the production fails because of that or in spite of that. I do know there was scarcely a laugh to be had amid the long, pointless introductory act, the long, tedious speeches by the title character (played by Fern Sloan), or the generally long (or seemingly long at 2 hours 40 minutes) running time. I saw a preview performance, so perhaps the director will tighten up, if not chop off, some of the excess.
It's not that this story is impossible to stage well: Franco Zefferelli captured the West End with Joan Plowright as Filumena in a 1977 production, and Judi Dench thrilled critics at the Piccadilly in 1998/99. And it's not that the actors, most of them, are untalented. I give high marks to the husband, Domenico, as played by Ted Pugh, who regularly performs opposite Ms. Sloan. Likewise Jessica Cerullo as Lucia, a housemaid, combines wit, sexiness and physical skill. But while the title character was too abrasive to be interesting, James Luce as Alfredo, Domenico's valet (I think), was simply annoying and, as far as I could tell, superfluous.
The set was Spartan and the actors were directed to observe each other, visibly, from the wings, when they were not part of the action themselves. That and the cross-dressing of Nathan Weinberger, who played both a male lawyer and a female dressmaker, were about the only amusing attributes of the show. I guess I should be grateful the cast didn't attempt Italian accents.
Filumena (the full Italian title is actually Filumena Marturana), an American premiere, ran September 12 - October 6 (2002) at the Stanislavsky Theater Studio, 1742 Church Street, NW, Washington, DC. Box Office 202.265.3748. The cast includes guest actors from New York's Actors' Ensemble, visiting for a 4-week limited engagement.
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Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance reviewer.