Saturday, September 19, 2009

Fringe Encores: Terranova

Terranova, a new based-on-a-true-story play, serves one important purpose. It reminds us--by looking at the 1906 trial of Josefina Terranova--that court cases, even those for defendants who claim insanity, are usually boring. Writers Pamela Monk and Dennis J. Loiacono make it even more intolerable by stretching things out. Not only are there flashbacks that explain Josefina's motives for killing her abusive guardians (Lucia Grillo and Joseph LaRocca, though the only abuse they show is toward the script, which they butcher), but there are constant interruptions in which William Randolph Hearst (John Gazzale) is shown to be the puppet-master behind the trial. At least Hearst's yellow journalism stretched out the trial in a sensational style; here, Theresa Gambacorta comes off as a green director, unable to turn that wooden acting into even pulpy drama.

The one exception is Laura Lamberti, who does us the honor of allowing us to see what Josefina sees in the world around her. This applies not only to her immigrant's mistrust of her lawyer, John Palmieri (Steve DiNardo), the Napolitano to her Sicilian, but to her stance on the brusque alienist (Joseph Manscuso, who fulfills the purpose of his role), and the rebellious fire that bubbles up when she confronts weak people, like her husband Giuseppe (Emilio Tirri) and her aunt Maria (Margo Singaliese). The last fifteen minutes or so are dedicated to Josefina on the stand, and for the first time, we see the effect of placing her "victims" on stage to haunt her.

Terranova desperately needs to be polished, because right now the effect of all that sorrow is apparent only in Lamberti, and all of the cause is missing. It also needs to decide whether or not it wants to focus on the general tale of the clash between old-world values and new-world ones, or if--better--it wants to stick with the specific, and interesting, tale of young Josefina.

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