by Lynn on March 14, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Storefront Theatre, 955 Bloor St. W, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Rose Napoli
Directed by Matthew Thomas Walker
Set and Costumes by Jenna McCutchen
Lighting by Pat Lavender
Sound and Composed by Beau Dixon
Starring: Diane D’Aquila
Richard Greenblatt
Rose Napoli

A haunting, moving play about love, loss, magic, witches and pasta sauce.

The Story. Mimmo wakes his daughter Mona at 2 am. It’s urgent. He has decided now is the perfect time to teach her how to make his famous tomato pasta sauce. He has just returned from the store with the ingredients, including fresh oregano, and she better get up and start chopping onions. Mona is aghast. She has just graduated university with a degree in creative writing and needs her sleep to be rested to write. Mimmo is having none of it. Mona keeps putting off learning about this family traditional dish and Mimmo won’t let her stall any further. He threatens her with a visitation of La Stega Nera—a witch with a bulbous nose that wrecks havoc and never leaves. Mona starts chopping.

Soon after life for Mona and her father changes forever. Mona does not know what to do or how to cope. She imagines seeing things. She meets a mysterious woman who gives her a special tea to help her. Secrets are revealed. She learns about the power of the scent of oregano. She finds her way.

The Production. Director Matthew Thomas Walker has staged this intimate play in the equally intimate Storefront Theatre space with the audience in two long rows of seats, on either side of the long playing area. Unfortunately the second row of seats is not on risers to make visibility as good as would be expected. There is a simple wood table with a wood chair on either side of it, centre stage. At the far stage right side of the space musician Beau Dixon sits behind his extensive drum set along with assorted instruments and stuff to make sound and music. Behind the audience is an elaborate ‘wall’ of raffia that looks like it’s enfolding anything in front of it. Action happens behind the raffia ‘wall, and various spaces around the audience. There is a hotplate on which the pasta sauce will be made up stage a bit to the right. The sound of garlic frying in hot oil, the resultant waft of cooking garlic and the smell of the onions and tomatoes cooking, lent an authentic ring to a family who is devoted to food and its preparation.

Most of the action happens centre stage. But often scenes are done up stage centre and that proves problematic. Sections of the audience can’t see because all seats are on the same level. Risers would have helped.

Except for this glitch Walker’s direction is sensitive, commanding and compassionate with large dollops of the whimsical. He knows how to delicately bring out the love and affection between father and daughter. And there is a strong, almost maternal bond between Mona and the larger than life character of La Strega Nera.

Mimmo’s constant optimism and enthusiasm are forceful as played by Richard Greenblatt. Greenblatt is a whirlwind of embracing emotion, whether he’s flitting around the stage with a prop, as a boy who is having fun and doesn’t want to grow up (like Peter Pan), or a father compelled to teach his daughter how to make his famous pasta sauce. As Mona, Rose Napoli is diminutive but no pushover. She is an exasperated, impatient daughter who learns the reason for her father’s impetuousness. Perhaps time is running out. When she realizes that Mona is able to move forward. Napoli imbues Mona with a spunky charm and an easy humour. Diane D’Aquila as La Strega Nera also realizes the mystery and the maternal in this commanding character who serves salty tea, but never coffee. D’Aquila is never sentimental and always true. Lovely performances, all.

Comment. Rose Napoli has written a lyrical, poetic, moving play full of magic about the passage of life. Oregano is also very funny with quips and jokes resulting naturally from characters who know the importance of humour to soften a hard situation. And the play is full to the brim with love. I look forward to Napoli’s next play.

Produced by Theatre Rhea

Opened: March 13, 2015
Closes: March 22, 2015
Cast: 3; 1 man, 2 women
Running Time: 70 minutes

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