Local actress at Long Wharf Theatre
NEW HAVEN >> It wasn’t that long ago that few of Jordyn DiNatale’s friends or family members would have predicted the New Haven native would bloom into a working actor on stage and in film and TV.
“I was a very shy little girl, believe it or not,” said DiNatale, performing in Meghan Kennedy’s world premiere of “Napoli, Brooklyn” at Long Wharf Theatre.
“My brother, C.J., was in a show at Act 2 Theatre at Albertus Magnus College,” said DiNatale, recalling how, as an 8-year-old, she first itched to act. “I asked my mom, ‘Can I audition?’ And she was like, ‘What? You? You wanna audition?’
“It shocked everyone,” she said.
Scroll ahead a few months and DiNatale found herself cast in Act 2’s production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel.” Since then, DiNatale, who grew up in East Haven, has racked up a beefy résumé, mostly working in film and TV. She’s played recurring roles on two series: “Eye Candy” (MTV) and “Shades of Blue” (NBC), featuring Jennifer Lopez and Ray Liotta. A few of DiNatale’s film credits include “Jamie Marks is Dead,” “How Far She Went,” “Lez Bomb” (playing granddaughter to Cloris Leachman and Bruce Dern) and “Central Park.”
DiNatale’s first professional production was 11 years ago in Yale Rep’s premiere of the Tony Kushner-Maurice Sendak project, the double-bill “Brundibar” and “Comedy on The Bridge.” Five years ago she performed in Elizabeth Clark’s play “Recall” at The Wild Project in the East Village.
DiNatale accrued these credits while attending East Haven High School and then earning a degree in video production at Southern Connecticut State University in 2015.
“Napoli, Brooklyn,” continues through March 12 under Gordon Edelstein’s direction before opening June 9 at co-producer Roundabout Theatre Company in New York.
It concerns the women of the Muscolino family, who long for freedom and fulfillment beyond the restraints of 1960 morality and provincialism.
Long Wharf bills it as a play about sisterhood, freedom and forgiveness. Joining DiNatale in the cast are Shirine Babb (Celia); Alyssa Bresnahan (Luda); Carolyn Braver (Vita); Jason Kolotouros (Nic); Christina Pumariega (Tina); Ryann Shane (Connie); and Graham Winton (Albert Duffy). Designers Eugene Lee (sets), Jane Greenwood (costumes), Ben Stanton (lights) and Fitz Patton (sound) will realize Kennedy’s play on Long Wharf’s main stage.
DiNatale plays Francesca, who at 16 is the youngest of the Muscolino females, as DiNatale said.
“The play is based on her mom’s life, actually,” DiNatale said of playwright Kennedy. “My character, Francesca, is based on Meghan’s mother.”
Francesca, on the cusp of adulthood, finds that her natural feelings toward her best friend, Connie, place her at sixes and sevens with her culture and religion.
“We’re extreme Catholics and my best friend is Irish-American Catholic, so we really believe in heaven and hell, and we really believe in sin,” said DiNatale, speaking of her character’s situation.
“I would say the emotional aspect, for me, because there’s elements that are kind of foreign to me, that’s been really challenging, but also really rewarding,” she said. “Meghan’s writing is just spot-on. It’s very real.”
Though DiNatale had to acquaint herself with some of the period trappings, she quickly appreciated the common threads from the Muscolino family to her own.
“As for the language, I grew up in a family just like the Italian immigrant families in Brooklyn back then,” DiNatale said. “My grandparents are from Italy. We’re very much like the family in the play — how we cook, eat dinner, mannerisms, characteristics. Some of the Italian slang words in the script I’ve already known from my family.”
There are a few words in Kennedy’s script with which DiNatale was unfamiliar. She ran a few choice ones by her unsuspecting mother, much to mom’s unpleasant surprise. DiNatale was duly embarrassed to learn their meaning and now only takes them out in public while performing the play.
That brief, awkward moment with her mother aside, DiNatale has grown and thrived while working on the play at Long Wharf. Having worked more often in film and TV, DiNatale enjoys the challenges that stage work poses.
“In terms of rehearsing, it’s so rigorous,” she said. “You rehearse six days a week. It’s always stimulating. In film and TV, there’s a lot of waiting around. You have a lot of time off set when you can listen to music, or really think about what you need to do to get yourself there. On stage, you don’t have that luxury.
“They’re completely different,” DiNatale said of working in theater and film. “I love (working on the) stage. It feeds your soul. You spend time with your character. You really get to know them. And you get immediate response — the audience is right there and you know every night if you make someone laugh, make someone cry, or happy.
“Gordon’s an amazing director,” she said. “He’s very giving to actors, lets us make our own choices.
If DiNatale has any say in it, she’ll continue working in theater, film and TV.
“I do love TV and film,” she said. “I love the craftsmanship of it.”
DiNatale, who wrote, directed and produced her own thesis film project at Southern, would like to explore working behind the camera in more depth.
“I can see myself writing something that I’m really passionate about and getting it produced,” she said. “I have to say that it’s just as stressful as working in front of the camera because so much work goes into it. It gave me a new appreciation for the craft.
“I think that blending the two sides of the business together is cool,” she said.
“I’m just so grateful to be a working actor,” said DiNatale, who credits her mother and father for supporting her career unconditionally. “It’s such a tough business.
“It’s nice to be doing it in my hometown, too.”