Friday in America, at Victory Gardens Theater. Longtime Illinois Wesleyan University professor John Ficca's Italian-American family drama hinges on a young Korean war vet's decision to rejoin the army instead of working for the family business. The dilemmas Ficca presents are familiar but worthy: how to honor one's ethnic heritage while establishing one's own identity, whether forgiving others' misdeeds is a form of betrayal. And the play weaves an elaborate tapestry of dramatic interactions between friends and family members as viewed by the family's youngest member--former high school cheerleader Angi, who narrates as an adult--suggesting an August Wilson play filtered through Neil Simon's Brighton Beach Memoirs.
Trying to represent so many characters and conflicts, however, Friday in America meanders, never developing a strong focus. And using Angi as a narrator proves problematic since she didn't witness many of the scenes she describes. The production is produced, directed, and performed by Ficca's former students, and it's heartfelt and well-intentioned. But Nic Dimond's staging, despite several excellent actors, lacks urgency; it seems that paying tribute to the writer means presenting his overwritten work unedited. Many of the performers struggle with their accents, and the spare set lacks specificity. Ficca's script is earnest, but his former students haven't streamlined it into a cohesive evening of theater, nor do they extricate it from the realm of cliche. --Adam Langer