An alternate title for Albert M. Tapper’s Clifford Odets-esque Bettinger’s Luggage might be The Flood.
In Tapper’s period piece, a flood destroyed the eponymous shop, an event around which Tapper’s tale of a family-owned business on Delancey Street in the Lower East Side of 1974 revolves.
Solidly directed by Steven Ditmyer, Luggage is a classic story of one generation disappointing another with unreasonable expectations, with a touch of Jaime Sánchez’s self-sacrificing character in The Pawnbroker tossed in for emotional heft.
Lou Bettinger (Richard MacDonald, solid) wants his son George (an earnest, eager Connor Chase Stewart) to take over the luggage store he inherited from his father, Papa Bettinger (Alex Dmitriev, bravely overcoming a clichéd role).
George wants to be a standup comedian, although an example of his act, at a Bar Mitzvah, proves he has a long way to go. Lou uses guilt and predictions of failure to keep George attached to the business he hates.
Lou, himself, was badgered out of a veterinarian career path by his dad who exclaimed mockingly, “A Jew and a horse!”
Who doesn’t hate Bettinger’s and actually thrives there is Angel (Sean Church-Gonzales, fine in a too-good-to-be-true role) who has worked at the shop since he was a kid and found his place in the world. Angel is dedicated and loyal to a fault, qualities that seal his fate.
Lou’s sister, Bessie (a colorful Lori Marcus), the most sympathetic character, holds several secrets that force all the characters to break from the past, including the true story of “the flood.”
Other characters include: the beautiful Lisa Donatelli (Katherine Schaber, charming), the daughter of the local baker who provides Lou with tasty cannoli—the girl of George’s dreams; Heshie (Fred Frabotta, convincing as the conscience of the play) who has been involved with Bettinger’s in a very personal way; Lydia, a girl of the streets played with compassion by Betsy Beutler; and her sadistic boyfriend, Jose played by Ivan Goris (as well as the playwright permits him). The owners of the neighboring business are Moe (a warm Mark Romeo) and O’Brien (Kevin Duffy, fine in another underwritten role.)
Minor characters include the Young Lou and Young Bessie played by Hillel Rosenshine and Ellie M. Plourde.
Tapper, known for his love of Broadway as demonstrated by his film Broadway: The Golden Age, has filled Luggage with old-fashioned Yiddish expressions and ethnic characters. Too often he depends on shopworn clichés, but his heart is in the right place and the actors almost—but not quite—manage to hide from the faults.
William Olson cleverly squeezes the three storefronts onto the small AMT stage with the Bettinger’s establishment the most prominent.
Aiden Bezark’s lighting makes the most of Olson’s set and Gina Ruiz’s apt period costumes enhance Tapper’s characters.
Bettinger’s Luggage isn’t particularly original. Odets and others got there first, but it is solidly written with colorful characters (even if you’ve seen them all before).
Bettinger’s Luggage (through October 26, 2023)
AMT Theater, 354 West 45th Street, in Manhattan
For Tickets, call 917-388-2530 or visit http://www.AMTTheater.org
Running time: 90 minutes without an intermission