Off-Broadway Theater Review: WHATTA YA NUTS! (June Havoc Theatre)

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by Dmitry Zvonkov on July 22, 2012

in Theater-New York

FUGEDDABOUDIT!

To use a slightly modified quote from a certain NYU professor notorious for his directness (which was misinterpreted by many sensitive arts students as brutality), here is the review of Vincent Gogliormella’s Whatta Ya Nuts!, directed by Charles Messina, in a nutshell: “Script bad, directing bad, show bad. Next!”

Except for a couple of outstanding performances – Ernest Mingione plays Vincent “The Veal Chop” Voldastana with a lovely sincerity, and Autumn Ready Potter finds a great deal of nuance in an extremely entertaining, over-the-top performance as both Holly Wood and Jeannie Hunter – there’s not much to enjoy in this show, which unfolds on a dull, amateur-looking set, with unimaginative lighting and a muddy sound design.

To try and delineate the plot of Watta Ya Nuts?!, which is part of the Midtown International Theater Festival, would give the inaccurate impression that there is one. Two goombah gangsters, Lou “The Big Cheese” Locatelli (Al Sapienza) and his consigliore Vincent, are hanging out at (what looks like it’s supposed to be) a pizza joint with Lou’s lawyer Ben Rosen (Alex Ishkanian), a character who adds nothing to the show. There is some vague nonsense mentioned about Lou wanting to leave the gangster life and about a new, classy girl he’s in love with. But mostly the whole first act is about Lou misusing and/or mispronouncing different words, with Vincent (and others) correcting him, which gets very old very quickly.

Mr. Sapienza’s performance is another problem. Unable to find anything to latch on to in his character, the charismatic Mr. Sapienza plays him on one note – anxious. Unfortunately, dramatically speaking, we don’t see any real reason why he should be. Which leads into the biggest problem: Watta Ya Nuts?! has no dramatic foundation, has no drama whatsoever; there are no stakes, no consequences, no character defining moments, it’s just the same stale joke over and over. There is one potentially dramatic storyline but it’s cut as soon as it’s introduced.

With two exceptions, the musical numbers interspersed throughout the show, popular songs which characters sing to recorded accompaniments, are difficult to watch. Again, Mr. Sapienza seems unclear as to what he is doing: is he singing his songs like his character? Has he stepped out of character to sing them like a Sinatra-esque crooner? Whatever the case, the result is embarrassing. The two exceptions are Ms. Potter, who does a lovely job, and Mr. Ishkanian, whose performance, shallow and silly throughout the show, suddenly comes alive for his one brief musical interlude.

With Valerie Smaldone in a completely superfluous role as Dr. Sheila Lesbianoski (“Lesbianoski” – there’s comedy for you!); Gina Ferranti as both Lisa Marie Locatelli, Lou’s daughter, and Dawn Marie Frantangelo, the woman (spoiler alert:) with whom Lou finally gets together. This is an intriguing idea, a father marrying a woman who’s a copy of his daughter, but sadly it is never explored in any way. Rounding out the cast is an irritating Steven LaChioma as both Cole Hunter and Roy Smuckers (is there a “With a name like Smuckers it’s got to be good” joke in there somewhere? Take a wild guess.)

Comedy writing 101: Comedy functions on the same dramatic principals as any other dramatic work. And just because you’re making a comedy doesn’t mean you can dispense with things like story, character arcs, obstacles, suspense, plot, and so forth. Going into Whatta Ya Nuts! I was concerned that the show would be exactly like what the title suggests: a sloppy, unfunny, outdated, in-joke. Unfortunately, my apprehension proved founded.

Whatta Ya Nuts!
Gennaro Productions in association with The Midtown International Theater Festival at June Havoc Theatre in New York City
scheduled to end on August 5, 2012
for tickets, visit http://www.midtownfestival.org/

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