The actor spoke to Emma Clarendon about starring in Napoli, Brooklyn which plays at the Park Theatre from 13 June until 13 July 2019.
Hi Robert, thanks so much for talking to me. Could you explain a bit more about the background to the story of Napoli, Brooklyn?
Well, for background you would need to ask the writer herself, but I can certainly offer a rough précis. It is the story of an Italian American family in Brooklyn in 1960 struggling to make ends meet and imploding/exploding because of the stresses and strains of their life. One daughter is beyond marital age and works, since a child, in a factory to help financially, the next is gorgeous and beaten by the father and sent to a convent because she protected the youngest who is a teen and discovering her sexuality in the love of her friend, the daughter of the local butcher.
This further enrages the father who in turn is raging because his American dream for which he fled Napoli 28 years ago, has failed to materialise and he remains an illegal undocumented manual labourer. Then there is the wife, the Mother Courage figure of Luda, trying to hold it all together despite mounting pressure. The piece has the classic dynamics and tension of Arthur Miller or Eugene O’Neill, it feels like timeless Americana with themes of the 60’s equally relevant to now.
What was it about the story that made you want to be involved with the production?
All of the above really, though if I am honest I found the character too exhausting to want to access, too much of a foul for the journeys of the others and perhaps more than I wanted to tackle, but I had coffee with the brilliant Lisa Blair, and the rest, as they say… ironically, now, I am loving the various lessons I have learned from the show both on and off stage. I guess roles we take can often come along at the precise time we most need to play them, and this is so for me here. I catharsis my own relationship with my father in this role and whilst it doesn’t change too much, it helps me remember that judgement is never a good ally of understanding.
How have you found working on the production so far?
It has been an intriguing process. We worked from the outside in. We got it on its feet on day one, script in hand, and created staging. I have many arguments against such an approach, but they fail to take hold because here I am, here we are, and it works. I loved it, and I think Lisa is a great fit for me as a director too.
How are you feeling about bringing Napoli, Brooklyn to the Park Theatre? I don’t know the Park. I live in Kent where the park is where my dog takes its morning constitutional! I have heard nothing but exciting things from everyone about the venue and I am very excited to come. I believe London audiences will have a lot to take from this story, such is their diversity and such are the themes of the play. I look forward to it hugely.
What do you think that audiences will take away from the story? Well, I have realised that for all my openness, I am still a little judgemental. In my initial view of my character for example. But every story should give us hope and show us why and this is no different. I hope the audience can relate to everyone on the stage because together and individually they are beautifully representative of all the Jungian archetypes. I want audiences always to come to see and hear a story and walk out with expanded awareness of dilemmas, characters, circumstances, sexuality, politics, ethics etc. This wonderful piece of writing hits so many marks that I believe it achieves what drama ought to on many levels.
If people are thinking about coming along to see the show why should they? Firstly, glibly, it is 2 hours, start to finish, including interval. In London when people travel by public or private transport, that often matters. But crucially, it will make you smile and cry in equal measure. Come and see it because every story is worth knowing, every story enriches our own narrative, every story teaches us something about the world and about ourselves. No greater function in storytelling than that. I hope you enjoy it and thank you for these questions.
By Emma Clarendon
Napoli, Brooklyn will play at the Park Theatre from the 13th June until the 13th July.