Jim Iorio, Elizabeth Rossa, and Dan Lauria
in A Stone Carver
(Photo © Cie Stroud)
Jim Iorio, Elizabeth Rossa, and Dan Lauria
in A Stone Carver
(Photo © Cie Stroud)
Television isn't the only place to see sitcom pilots; occasionally, they end up on the legitimate stage. Take William Mastrosimone's A Stone Carver, which has transferred intact to Manhattan from its recent production at Trenton's Passage Theatre Company.

Whether or not Mastrosimone -- whose TV miniseries Into the West received 16 Emmy nominations -- was consciously thinking about television when he wrote this play back in 1973, he was careful to craft a self-contained, 100-minute work for the stage. The title character, Agostino Malatesta, is being played by television veteran Dan Lauria, and there's no reason why the actor -- best known as the father on The Wonder Years -- couldn't continue his no-holds-barred, ethnic-friendly performance if some producer decides to use A Stone Carver as the basis for a sitcom.

Holed up in his house, Agostino talks to his late wife, Emma, presses his own wine, and fires buckshot through his kitchen window at local officials who are threatening to bulldoze his home because he's the last holdout in an eminent-domain property takeover. It's fitting that the discontented Malatesta has turned the limestone dwelling he built with his own hands into a bunker not just because of his profession, but because he resembles Archie Bunker closely enough for the most creativity-challenged television mogul to get the point.

Agostino is also the sort of guy who orders women around as if they were housemaids, traps blackbirds in his garden to cook up as a delicacy, and treats his son Raffaele (Jim Iorio) as a panty-waist whom he can still knock around, even though the offspring is a former teenage boxing champ. Yet it's clear that underneath his tough-guy exterior, Papa Malatesta is a sentimental cream puff. His unadulterated love for his deceased wife -- and also for opera singer Enrico Caruso -- is proof of this underlying goodness, although a glimpse of how he treated Emma when she was alive probably might not be something anyone would want to see.

Meanwhile, Raff has come to talk his father into giving up the makeshift fortress. He is accompanied by his fiancée, Janice (Elizabeth Rossa), a decidedly non-Italian blonde whom the elder Malatesta immediately takes to calling "pasta ajuta" ("dry pasta"). It's obvious that Malatesta loves Raff but has never known how to express that love other than by trying to mold the boy into his own notion of a man; similarly, Raff can't or won't come right out and say that he loves the father who slapped him around as a kid. And since fisticuffs are nothing more nor less than an acting out of underlying psychological forces, it's not for nothing that Mastrosimone has Malatesta and Raff come to physical blows.

The play has been directed by Robert Kalfin with an eye and ear for maximizing the high emotions that the Malatestas harbor. Lauria and Iorio tackle the material with appropriate macho passion. Rossa, whose Janice serves both as buffer and eventual punching-bag, isn't quite in their major league but is still appealing. In the end, A Stone Carver is a soft-hearted play about two tough-skinned men who assess things differently. But most importantly, it's still a play with a heart.