There’s scant evidence of the ferocious feeling that powers Eduardo de Filippo’s 1946 comedy “Filumena” in James Naughton’s limp new production for the Blue Light Theater Company.
Maria Tucci plays the title character, a former prostitute whose 25 years of unsanctified companionship to the wealthy Domenico (Tony Amendola) have been repaid with betrayal — he’s taken up with a younger woman. As the play opens, Filumena is exulting in a triumphant bit of deception: Believing her to be on her deathbed, Domenico had taken pity on her and married her, only to watch her make a sudden, stunning recovery.
Pressing her advantage, Filumena reveals that it’s not just for her sake that she wanted Domenico’s name, but for that of her three grown sons. She’d secretly paid for their upbringing with spoils stolen from the fringes of Domenico’s playboy lifestyle, and now wants to offer them a mother’s love — and Domenico’s good name.
Though she bellows grandly, Tucci’s Filumena is cool and implacable when the play demands fire and feeling (her only nod to Neapolitan theatrics is a distracting overuse of hand gestures). Yes, Filumena’s eyes are resolutely dry — but it’s not from lack of feeling, but an excess of it. Tears would unleash a flood of anguish she has tenuously kept in check for two decades. Tucci’s dry turn gives no hint of the pent-up love for Domenico that drives Filumena, so its revelation in the final act rings hollow.
Tucci’s performance is matched by Amendola’s Domenico, who throughout seems more annoyed than inflamed with rage, calculating when he should be confounded. The underplaying robs the comedy of its richness, drains the play of emotional ballast and occasionally makes nonsense of the plot: When Filumena’s rival, Diana, refuses to enter the house for fear of her temper, it’s preposterous; in their previous encounter, Filumena was calmly insulting, not life-threatening. (Then again, Diana’s cowering is maddeningly underplayed, too.)
With the exception of Joe Grifasi as Domenico’s put-upon servant and Lenny Venito as Michele, Filumena’s plumber who’s also her son, supporting performances are largely flat. It sometimes seems all the local color has been leached from the performances and soaked up by Hugh Landwehr’s handsome set, a lush-looking villa lit with elan by Rui Rita.
The players generally eschew accents, but such is the dialogue’s rhythm, in Tucci’s straightforward translation, that they occasionally surface nonetheless, seemingly despite the actors’ intentions. Likewise, de Filippo’s play still has plenty of humor and charm, but it sometimes seems to be fighting its way through a disappointing production.