by Lynn on February 28, 2022

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at Theatre Aquarius, Hamilton, Ont. until March 12, 2022

Created and performed by Farren Timoteo

Directed by Daryl Cloran

Set by Cory Sincennes

Costumes by Cindy Wiebe

Lighting by Conor Moore

While Made In Italy is really about Francesco Mantini, a second-generation Italian teen struggling to find his place in Jasper, Alberta, it’s also about his father, Salvatore Mantini, who came to Canada from Italy to make a better life for his family. Salvatore went ahead because his wife was pregnant with Francesco. Alas his wife died in child-birth so Salvatore raised Francesco himself.

Salvatore is proudly Italian. He believes that a solid table is the most important piece of furniture you can own, because your whole family can sit down around it and enjoy a traditional Italian meal composed of traditional Italian food, served in a traditional Italian way (the salad is always at the end, of course)!

Salvatore’s teenaged son, Francesco, just wants to fit it with his schoolmates but it’s hard, certainly when a girl he likes laughs at the salamis handing around his porch. It’s hard fitting in when the class bully calls Francesco racist names and beats him up. It’s hard fitting in when Francesco is made to wear a suit to school and his lunches are made of robust but oily meats.

Eventually Francesco realizes he has a talent to sing. At first he sings in his church, then he branches out with some friends and forms a band. They are pretty good. He travels to Italy to see his cousins etc. in his father’s small town and his life changes. He is taken under the wing of his ‘swivel-hipped-cousin who shows him how to dress: form-fitting pants, tight shirt unbuttoned to here, at least a gold cross and a lot of action in swiveling the hips. Anna imparts wise philosophy about life and its vagaries. Anna is a sultry, cigarette-smoking woman at a local ‘establishment’ who shows Francesco some finer aspects of life—she shakes him out of the ‘straight and narrow’ to embrace a growing, wider world. When Francesco is faced with a dilemma he always would first think of what one of his favourite saints would advise, and then by what Anna might tell him. Anna’s words are never minced. They are blunt, direct and usually serve the point.

As Francesco gets older, he and his band become more successful. With that comes the pressures of performing and Francesco begins to drink. This affects a great opportunity, so again, disappointment returns to his life. Francesco is conflicted about being Italian. He changes his name to one that is less Italian. His journey takes many twists and turns and he eventually finds inspiration and connection. But along the way he seems to always be butting heads with his well-meaning father.

The best way to make a universal statement is to be specific to a certain thing. Because Made in Italy is so specific to being Italian, the universality of the story is obvious. The show will of course have resonance with Italians, but it will also have resonance with a child who is second generation who is trying to fit in and not stand out. The story is familiar because it’s happened to so many people before us. This doesn’t mean it’s predictable, it means we can recognize the highs, lows and in-betweens of the story and appreciate it.

Farren Timoteo is a multi-talented theatre artist who wrote and performs all the parts (cousins, uncles, aunts, ladies of the various times of the day, saints etc.), specifically Francesco and his father Salvatore.

Cory Sincennes’ set is impressive. It is mainly Salvatore’s house. A large wall is full of framed pictures that will change as the evening progresses. We can assume they are of family etc. or whatever we want to imagine. In front of the pictured wall is a solid dining room table with room for at least 12. Salvatore knows the value of a table and the family and friends who will sit around it enjoying his food and bad jokes. He sits at what he calls the head of the table and a stool is beside him, which is where Francesco has traditionally sat.

Salvatore (Farren Timoteo) enters to begin the evening. He is stooped slightly with age, he speaks slowly and deliberately. He wears glasses. He is proud of everything Italian and is quite confident about how to serve food to his friends and family. He reminisces. He tries to tell jokes. He’s sweet and charming.

Eventually Francesco appears: no glasses, straight-backed, quick talking, energetic, lively and needy. We are charmed by him too. But then we see how Francesco (Timoteo?) is briming with talent. He sings. He dances. He reproduces all the sensual moves of “Being Alive” from “Saturday Night Fever.” He goes on a tear to build his muscles after he sees a movie that suggests he can fit in if only he can lift this weight over his head without rupturing anything.

Farren Timoteo has a gift for comedy that captures the sensuality and confidence of body-proud Italian men without making fun of them or being demeaning in any way. The show is beautifully directed by Daryl Cloran who has a comedic eye; knows the value of going big in a scene set on top of the table and building on that. The show is rich in detail and subtlety, like a complex ragu.

If I have a quibble it’s that perhaps a bit more detail is needed in explaining how Francesco got caught up in drinking to such an extent that is caused damage to his career and then just as quickly seems to have solved the problem without the audience seeing how or when Francesco decided to help himself. I think that needs to be fleshed out. Other than that, bravo.

Presented by Theatre Aquarius

Plays until March 12.

Running time: 2 hours, in intermission.

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