July 19, 2019

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Viva, Italia!

One-man play's look at growing up Italian in Canada crosses cultures

If you lived in a major metropolis in the 1970s, being Italian should have had its own cool cachet.

Consider the movies of the ‘70s. This was nothing less than a glorious renaissance period for directors whose names ended with vowels: Coppola, Scorsese, De Palma, Bertolucci, Argento, Cimino. The decade likewise saw the dominance of important Italian-American actors: Pacino, De Niro, Stallone, Travolta.

Naturally, you’d think that cachet might pay off as it did if, say, you sported an English accent in the ‘60s, during the height of the British Invasion.

But Farren Timoteo has another perspective. The writer-performer of the one-man show Made in Italy at the Royal MTC Warehouse presents a story of an Italian kid growing up in the ‘70s in, of all places, Jasper, Alta. It turns out, if you showed up to grade school in a three-piece suit and a lunchbox filled with exotic cured meats, the other kids might think you were a little strange.

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If you lived in a major metropolis in the 1970s, being Italian should have had its own cool cachet.

THEATRE PREVIEW

Click to Expand

Made in Italy
By Farren Timoteo
● Tom Hendry Warehouse Theatre
● To March 16
● Tickets $22-$41 at royalmtc.com

Consider the movies of the ‘70s. This was nothing less than a glorious renaissance period for directors whose names ended with vowels: Coppola, Scorsese, De Palma, Bertolucci, Argento, Cimino. The decade likewise saw the dominance of important Italian-American actors: Pacino, De Niro, Stallone, Travolta.

Naturally, you’d think that cachet might pay off as it did if, say, you sported an English accent in the ‘60s, during the height of the British Invasion.

But Farren Timoteo has another perspective. The writer-performer of the one-man show Made in Italy at the Royal MTC Warehouse presents a story of an Italian kid growing up in the ‘70s in, of all places, Jasper, Alta. It turns out, if you showed up to grade school in a three-piece suit and a lunchbox filled with exotic cured meats, the other kids might think you were a little strange.

"I’ve gotta say: I’ve never had a moment in my life where it wasn’t pretty cool to be Italian," says Timoteo. "I’m a huge cinema fan and I grew up on films from the ‘70s and directors like Coppola, De Palma and Scorsese, they were all over the place.

Farren Timoteo wrote and performs in Made in Italy, which runs until March 16 at the Royal MTC's Tom Hendry Warehouse Theatre. (Ryan Parker photos)

Farren Timoteo wrote and performs in Made in Italy, which runs until March 16 at the Royal MTC's Tom Hendry Warehouse Theatre. (Ryan Parker photos)

"I think that’s one of the ideas that fascinated me early on about my father’s story, and his father’s story, about immigrating to Alberta and specifically growing up in Jasper," he says.

"I thought it was really unexpected that anybody of an Italian background would’ve had a really terrible time throughout the ‘70s."

While the play is fictional, it was very much inspired by his father’s experiences, he says, acknowledging that it took a while for his dad to open up about what it was like.

"I was an adult before we really sat and talked about it," he says. ‘Maybe it was because it was the first time I was really asking about it. But I thought that was one of the more compelling reasons to write Made in Italy.

"He grew up in such a small town where I think being a cultural minority of any kind would’ve singled you out and made it really difficult."

While the play is fictional, it was very much inspired by his father’s experiences, Timoteo says, acknowledging that it took a while for his dad to open up about what it was like.

While the play is fictional, it was very much inspired by his father’s experiences, Timoteo says, acknowledging that it took a while for his dad to open up about what it was like.

Movies proved to be a form of therapy for both father and son, Timoteo says.

"When I was a little boy I was about six or seven, I came home one day from school and my dad had laid out two VHS tapes on the carpet," Timoteo recalls. "He said, ‘Son I think it’s time. You’re ready to watch two of my favourite films. They made a big impact on me.’

"He turned them over one at a time. One was Rocky and the other was Rocky 2," Timoteo says.

"I think that was a big part of his experience, seeing films like Rocky or seeing him and his friends portrayed in Saturday Night Fever and thinking: OK, there are other Italians out there."

Rocky in particular came at a good time for Timoteo’s father, who was a kid "trying trying to fit in and, when that fails, trying to disappear. Then you have a role model come along who literally fights this way to the top, battling for recognition and respect."

It may be too that Rocky may have been an inspiration for Timoteo as a future performer.

Timoteo: 'we're all unified by very similar struggles.'

Timoteo: 'we're all unified by very similar struggles.'

"After I watched those movies with my dad, I became the biggest Rocky fan in the world," he says. "I was putting on Rocky plays in the basement which was essentially me just hitting play on the soundtrack and jumping around on a mattress on the floor... but inviting the entire neighbourhood to watch.

"I haven’t come very far," he adds.

Timoteo says he has been struck by how universally Made in Italy has been accepted when he has performed it at Western Canada Theatre in Kamloops, B.C.

"I worried from the outset that the show is so specific to my family’s own experience that it might be completely inaccessible. It might not make sense to people," he says. "But after opening it for the first time at Western Canada Theatre, I’ve been completely proven wrong.

"I think it’s interesting how we’re all unified by very similar struggles," he says.

"Remember that there’s political forces that are doing their best to create differences between us, so it can seem like we’re not all related in the same universal struggle," he says.

"Me, I’ve never felt more unified with my fellow person than when I go on stage and tell a story about a kid just trying to fit in."

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @FreepKing

Randall King

Randall King
Reporter

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

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