Remember that old saying “you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family”? The haunting truism is on display in Joe Lauinger’s Holy Child, a play about four Italian brothers who can’t escape each other no matter how hard they try, even in death.
The four are reunited over a bottle of wine that “doesn’t get empty” when one of the brothers, an alcoholic priest, is set to be banished to the church of no return: Holy Child. But we soon learn that the three others of the Di Camillo clan are just as troubled as their drunken sibling. Vic, the eldest, is an overweight and egregiously unhappy businessman, and Patsy is a high school gym teacher who claims to be in love with his 15-year-old girlfriend, despite his wife at home. Bernie, the youngest, almost got away, enjoying the life of a lawyer in the big city, yet we quickly find that he is burdened by just as much baggage as the rest of them.
The production is carried by an exceptional cast that deftly balances the cartoonish stereotypes that the brothers could be with the real humans that live underneath. The hearty New York accents and Italian fanfare take center stage, but still leave room for some honest moments and touching emotion. Paul Montagna effortlessly embodies Vic’s bravado while Jerry Ferris is maddeningly accurate as Patsy, the foolish brother afraid to let down his guard. John Blaylock is exceptional as the drunken priest, playing the tricky role of a drunkard with a natural conviction. Dono Cunningham is also noteworthy, allowing the audience to witness his subtle inner battle between family ties and emotional freedom. But let us not forget the exceedingly talented Annie Paul, who can seemingly be anyone, whether that’s a saucy waitress, a yoga-practicing Virgin Mary, or a quick-witted GPS system.
Although the actors are uniform in their solid performances, the play itself still leaves room for improvement. The first and second acts seem to belong in different plays: the first in a realistic dysfunctional family drama, and the second in a fantastical dark comedy. Both are enjoyable, but disjointed when paired together. Furthermore, the conclusion is unsatisfying, almost as if the story simply ends when time runs out.
The theme, however, unites the disparate scenes when the style and plot do not. The audience is left with the burning truth that we can try to escape from our family, but we will never win. Even physical distance cannot wear down the psychological bonds or protect from the bruises, and running away could only make it worse. The only path toward clarity is to face the family head on, just as the endearingly disturbed Di Camillo clan proves.
Holy Child; Written by Joe Lauinger; Directed by Sue Glausen; Roy Arias Off-Off Broadway Theatre; 300 W. 43rd Street, Suite 506; New York, NY; 10036; 212-957-8358