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Theater review: 'Italian American Reconciliation' at Ruskin Group Theatre

December 19, 2009 | 11:33 am

400.IAR-LauerColella -1 The heart is a lonely hunter if it looks for love on the cheap. “Ain’t no bargains in people,” a character muses in “Italian American Reconciliation,” John Patrick Shanley’s wistful 1986 comedy, now extended into January at the Ruskin Group Theatre. Eternally single Aldo (John Colella) won’t pay the high price of romance -- until best friend Huey (Andy Lauer) asks for help winning back his bitter ex-wife, Janice (Amy Jacobson), whose dudgeon is as high as her teased hair. Cue a balcony scene with red wine, roses and a gun.

Written around the time of “Moonstruck,” the buoyant “Reconciliation” explores similar themes: gender wars, joys and pains of a tight-knit ethnic community, fear of loneliness. Twenty years on, the play feels like a period piece — cornball, sure, but with a big-heartedness and linguistic vitality that today’s emerging writers could learn from.

Director Rae Allen frames some real moments, but can’t entirely corral her uneven cast into the same play. Lauer plays Huey’s emasculation as a kind of stylized “Rain Man” autism, while Mary Margaret Lewis’ Aunt May doesn’t put much spin on the playwright’s bromides.  The chief pleasure here is Colella, who dives headlong into Shanley’s soap and comes up beaming. A Sinatra song in a porkpie hat, he makes heartache a lot of fun.

-- Charlotte Stoudt

“Italian American Reconciliation” Ruskin Group Theatre, 3000 Airport Ave., Santa Monica. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. No shows Sunday-Jan. 7. Ends Jan. 23. $15-$20. Contact: (310) 397 3244. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.

Photo: Andy Lauer and John Colella. Credit: Agnes Magyari.