|William McCauley, Susan Merson, Eli Wallach.|
|Sam Gray, Jeff Giannone, Walter Abel.|
A mildly diverting comedy that came to Broadway after a successful staging at Britain’s National Theatre, with the director-designer of that production, the world famous Franco Zeffirelli, repeating his chores with an American cast. The first play to reach Broadway by prolific Italian dramatist-screenwriter-director-actor Eduardo de Filippo, it contained elements of Neapolitan farce, commedia del’arte, and the subject of a cuckolded husband, all of which are bound up in many of the writer’s works.
|Sada Thompson, Sam Gray.|
Zeffirelli created extremely realistic scenery for this large-cast, three-act, family comedy, which takes place in the kitchen and dining room of a well-to-do Neapolitan family. It begins on Saturday night, with the actual onstage preparation of a ragu by the matriarch, Rosa (Sada Thompson), the fragrant aroma of which pervaded the auditorium. It then shows the consumption of that concoction at a Sunday dinner peopled by numerous friends and relatives. Finally, on Monday morning, the cold leftovers are finished off.
The central action, apart from the cooking and eating, concerns a marital misunderstanding between Rosa and her spouse, Peppino (Eli Wallach). Rosa has been cool to Peppino ever since she began thinking he slighted her cooking. He, unaware of his contretemps, assumes she has been having an affair with a good-looking accountant neighbor (Ron Holgate). The problem is ironed out in the third act after a monumental verbal brawl between the couple. In the course of the play, the many charming characters surrounding the married couple are introduced, along with their subplot relationships.
|Eli Wallach, Ron Holgate, Terry Hinz.|
Wallach and Thompson gave their professional best to this modestly pleasing enterprise in the roles that would be played on film in 1978 by Joan Plowright and Frank Finlay (Laurence Olivier played the elderly Antonio [Walter Abel on Broadway]). The critics were tolerant of the comedy’s blandishments, but were not lavish in dispensing accolades. They questioned the uneven use of Italian dialects, the too-long, two-and-a-half hour length, and the stock characters and plot. Most agreed with Clive Barnes that it was “a perfectly agreeable boulevard comedy,” but not much more.
Though all had their reservations, only a few, like Martin Gottfried and John Simon, were truly ill-disposed toward the play and production, which lasted a mere week and a half.