May 20, 2019

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Play sets table for new narrative

Author offers fresh look into Italian-Canadian culture

Farren Timoteo’s Made in Italy is playing at the Tom Hendry Warehouse Theatre until March 16. (Dylan Hewlett photo)</p>

Farren Timoteo’s Made in Italy is playing at the Tom Hendry Warehouse Theatre until March 16. (Dylan Hewlett photo)

Sad to say, most of the pop-culture glimpses we have of the Italian immigrant/second-generation experience come from movies and TV shows touching on organized crime, such as The Godfather, Goodfellas and The Sopranos.

Playwright-performer Farren Timoteo, a third-generation Italian-Canadian from Edmonton, offers up a delightful corrective, telling stories of coming to Canada from Italy, and also growing up Italian in the community of Jasper, Alta., fictionalized through the experiences of Timoteo’s own father and grandfather.

The story, encompassing approximately two hours and 10 minutes (including a 20-minute intermission) is mostly focused on Francesco, a kid growing up tough in Jasper without a mom.

His father, Salvatore, has proudly passed on his love for Italian culture to his son. But for Francesco, that means being the odd man out in his school, which he attends in a suit and lunch box filled with exotic Italian cheeses. Even at home, he’s the only kid who has sausages hanging in his front porch.

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Sad to say, most of the pop-culture glimpses we have of the Italian immigrant/second-generation experience come from movies and TV shows touching on organized crime, such as The GodfatherGoodfellas and The Sopranos.

Playwright-performer Farren Timoteo, a third-generation Italian-Canadian from Edmonton, offers up a delightful corrective, telling stories of coming to Canada from Italy, and also growing up Italian in the community of Jasper, Alta., fictionalized through the experiences of Timoteo’s own father and grandfather.

The story, encompassing approximately two hours and 10 minutes (including a 20-minute intermission) is mostly focused on Francesco, a kid growing up tough in Jasper without a mom.

His father, Salvatore, has proudly passed on his love for Italian culture to his son. But for Francesco, that means being the odd man out in his school, which he attends in a suit and lunch box filled with exotic Italian cheeses. Even at home, he’s the only kid who has sausages hanging in his front porch.

In his future, there is going to be no shortage of Canadian schoolmates intent on messing up that suit.

Salvatore explains early on that the centre of Italian life is the dining-room table, where his family members gather and Francesco is called upon to sing.

This information also accommodates Timoteo structuring the play like a lavish Italian meal, from aperitif and antipasto to salad and dessert. (Salvatore has strong feelings about the Canadian penchant for serving salads first.)

That big, substantial table, part of a clever set designed by Cory Sincennes, functions as a stage within a stage. Francesco climbs on it from time to time to demonstrate dance moves, hair-care techniques and song stylings that range, with the passage of time from O Sole Mio to the Bee Gees’ More Than a Woman.

In his teens, Francesco has an epiphany when he is finally taken to his father’s home village in Abruzzo, Italy, where he feels more at home than he does in the town where he has spent his whole life.

The visit creates a conflict that sees Francesco blame his dad for the alienation he feels in Canada.

Francesco, played by Farren Timoteo, shows off his Saturday Night Fever-inspired dance moves during Made in Italy. (Dylan Hewlett photo)</p>

Francesco, played by Farren Timoteo, shows off his Saturday Night Fever-inspired dance moves during Made in Italy. (Dylan Hewlett photo)

Movies figure prominently, as they would in a 1970s-set story, a boon decade for Italian-American filmmakers and actors. Instead of Mafia movies, Francesco is thrilled by Rocky, a movie that hits him where he lives when it comes to helping him find his pride. Less prominent, but no less influential is the John Travolta-starring Saturday Night Fever, which provides the young adult Francesco with a fashion/music/dance template with which to reinvent himself.

Directed by Daryl Cloran (who recently helmed the Royal MTC mainstage production of Matilda the Musical), the show has a snappy pace that still allows more contemplative grace notes.

Timoteo is a bit of a marvel, a quintuple threat: singing, dancing, acting, writing... and hairdressing.

He’s also a pretty gifted physical comedian, seen in the way he choreographs the can’t-keep-still exuberance of one of Francesco’s cousins, or the hilarious, Rocky-esque getting-in-shape montage.

The show’s primary colour is comedy, but within that framework, Timoteo makes solid, serious points about the immigrant experience, as well as striking just the right note of poignancy in the end.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @FreepKing

Randall King

Randall King
Reporter

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

Read full biography

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