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Danny Cistone and Alexis Brandt in Lusting for Pipino's Wife at Theatre 68 (Photo by Doren Sorrell)
Danny Cistone and Alexis Brandt in Lusting for Pipino’s Wife at Theatre 68 (Photo by Doren Sorrell)

Lusting After Pipino’s Wife

Reviewed by Paul Birchall
Theatre 68
Through April 19

According to director/performer Ronnie Marmo, this production of Sam Henry Kass’s comedy is a 25th anniversary staging of a show that he remembers fondly from when he acted in it many years ago. To my mind, however, the play’s mix of calculatedly quirky romantic situations and abrasively eccentric characters has aged quite poorly. I’m not sure why.

It might be a lack of heft to the storyline, or it might be a disappointing reliance on characterizations which are little more than broad types. The show is meant to accompany the premiere of Kass’s new play, Irving’s Tiara, and in that sense it has context. Otherwise, the innate triviality of its tone and plot belie its resurrection from the dusty vaults of the past.

Genial if humorously foul-mouthed Vinnie (Ronnie Marmo) owns an old fashioned Italian restaurant in what sounds like a town near the Jersey Shore. He talks a strong patter of sex and male adrenaline — but his actual track record with women is rather poor: In one scene, he tries to sweet talk Lorraine (Katy Jacoby) a cynical, emotionally disturbed gal whom he meets at an art gallery, but she responds as if he were a potential rapist.

Meanwhile, Vinnie’s best friend Patsy (Danny Cistone) is at the grocery store when he bumps into beautiful Rita (Alexis Brandt) who, back in high school, was the lifeguard who saved his life.  Patsy and Rita start a whirlwind courtship, which seems destined to end at the altar. This appalls both Rita’s roomie Lorraine and the selfish Vinnie, who can’t figure out why his troll-like dishwasher has a gorgeous devoted wife and he can’t even get a second date.

Kass’s piece unapologetically hails back to an era of broad stroke sexism, where the men were burly men, and the gals were busy just trying to get a man.  Admittedly, this is true of that time period — but Marmo’s straightforward production adds little nuance or irony to a setting that frankly feels cheesy and shallow. Dialogue, pitched in “New Jersey weasel” dialect, rarely aspires to more than cute.

Performances are cheerful, if workmanlike. Cistone is appealing as Vinnie’s silly best pal, but what’s likable about the character seems to rise more from the performer than from anything in the play. As for the bubbly, streetwise Rita, Brandt boasts a turn that starts out sweetly naive, but deepens into distrust and worldly wisdom.  It is one of the few multidimensional elements in this otherwise slight effort.

Theatre 68, 5112 Lankershim Blvd, North Hollywood; Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m., through March 11. Then contact theater for performance schedule. (323) 960-5068 or www.theatre68.com.  Running time: two hours and  15 minutes with a 15 minute intermission.


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