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      The Sweepers
    Where the boys aren't

    The mostly successful "The Sweepers" peeks in on three World War II-era housewives as they cope with life, love, and that empty space where all the men used to be.


    (Originally reviewed in April 2002.)

    "The Sweepers" takes place in a very small world — it contains only five characters, who are seen interacting in a tiny yard betwen apartment buildings. Yes, it sounds claustrophobic. For the three middle-aged women at the center of the story, though, the world they care about is centered on that small patch of ground. These three housewives are fixated almost completely on their homes and their families, but most of all on one another. The play takes place in Boston during the closing months of World War II.

    Written by: John Picardi.
    Cast: Dana Smith, Brigitte Viellieu-Davis, Donna Davis, Ivy Vahanian, and Matt Walton.
    Urban Stages
    259 West 30th St.
    Oct. 19 - Dec. 1, 2002

    With most sons and husbands away at the war, Dotty, Bella, and Mary rely on one another emotionally, while at the same time they have no one but each other to fight with. Only Bella's son has been spared by a heart murmur from being drafted, and the other women are jealous of Bella as a result. Bella herself is worried by her son's engagement to a WASPy upper-class girl. She worries because she, Dotty and Mary are second-generation working-class Italians who are proud of their identity and their way of life. One side effect of this character trait is that all of the shouting and arm-waving these women do can't be called overacting. As far as the play is concerned, the three are just being Italian, and their acting does ring true. As long as you're willing to be forgiving of their accents, you can find some extra entertainment by following the wandering of their Boston Italian accents from Boston Irish to standard American, with isolated ghettoes of New York Italian.

    As the three friends live a dreary routine while they wait for their men to return from the war, most of the fuel for the drama's plot and the women's gossip comes from the marriage of Bella's son, called Sonny by everyone, to the society princess Karen. Even at moments that might otherwise be dull, the play keeps the audience's attention by promising a glimpse of the sheets from the newlyweds' first night together. The question of whether the sheets will be publicly aired is only one part of the tug-of-war between the law school graduate Sonny, his new Wellesley-educated wife, and his high school dropout mother, who tries to keep her son at home as her peers egg her on. Of course, there are social issues tied up in this conflict, and the play handles them successfully as long as they are simply lurking behind the dialogue. There are times when the script has the characters discussing social issues directly, in painfully unnatural dialogue. Even at those moments, the promise of seeing dirty bedsheets any moment keeps your attention guiltily focused.

    All in all, "The Sweepers" is satisfying, and it builds to an especially moving climax. As this is a play about middle-aged women in the 1940s, the audience present when I attended was above average in years. The crowd was still very enthusiastic, and it was easy to see why.

    APRIL 24, 2002

    Reader comments on The Sweepers:

  • Loved IT   from Anne, Nov 29, 2003
  • I grew up in the North End   from Provi Lane, May 27, 2004
  • I grew up in the North End too   from Marilyn Romeo, Jun 24, 2005
  • Dottie   from Leslie Best, Aug 10, 2012

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