In the early 1960s, the nation was on the precipice of great social change—the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, and the rejection of the social conformity of the 1950s would soon rock the country to its core. Meghan Kennedy’s new play Napoli, Brooklyn is set in Brooklyn, NY in 1960 and in it, you can feel the beginnings of these momentous changes taking their course.
Napoli, Brooklyn is, in many ways, a quintessentially American story. The play revolves around the Muscolinos, an Italian immigrant family and their three American-born daughters, trying to survive—and even thrive—in a world that’s simultaneously bursting with possibility and rife with obstacles. They are a family like so many other immigrant families living in New York during the last century—jobs are scarce, money is tight, and the ever-elusive American Dream acts as a beacon of hope. And yet, the nation—and the world—are about to change forever, and the myth of the American Dream is about to become exposed. As the Muscolino daughters come of age, so they too become awake and aware of the inequalities in the world, and the tremendous effort it will take to overcome them.
Long Wharf Theatre’s Literary Manager Christine Scarfuto sat down with Meghan Kennedy to ask her a few questions about the play:
Q: What was your impetus to tell this story? Where did the idea for the play come from?
A: Napoli, Brooklyn is loosely based on my mother’s adolescence. She grew up in a big, Italian Catholic, immigrant family. I grew up hearing stories about the plane crash in December of 1960, which happened close to her apartment, and that image always stayed with me—a girl witnessing a giant plane crash in the middle of her small, Brooklyn neighborhood. At the same time I was also interested in how the struggle in immigrant families is passed from generation to generation, particularly among girls. They had to fight so hard to find their voices, and even harder to keep them intact.
Q: The Muscolino daughters are raised Roman Catholic, and prayer plays a tremendously important role in the play. What strength do these women find in spirituality? Why is it so vital to their existence?
A: There’s a Mary Oliver quote I like a lot, “Attention is the beginning of devotion.” I think for these women prayer is, at least in one sense, attention being paid to their innermost selves. It is the beginning of devotion to who they are and who they might become. The act of praying is different for each of them—for one it’s a conversation, for another it’s a battle, for another it’s a passageway. In such an oppressive environment, they are searching for a way out and a way in at the same time and prayer becomes a vital part of that search.
Q: How do you feel the play resonates with the present moment? And why do you feel these stories are vital for us to bear witness to right now?
A: With the new presidential administration, I’m happy this play is going into production right now. I think we need to see a stage full of women who are fighting for survival. This is a story about women and immigrants, two groups that need as many spotlights on them as possible right now. At a moment in history when our rights are at stake and our voices are being threatened... I think it’s the perfect time to make some noise.