Regional Reviews: New Jersey
A Trip to Italy for Love of Family
This story of a working class, Italian New Jersey family is told to us by thirty-year-old advertising account executive Thomas DaGato. Lately, Thomas has been dreaming about his long gone beloved grandmother who immigrated to America from Italy in 1921. His dreams have him longing for the large Sunday family gatherings at his grandparents' house in the bosom of his family. He tells us stories about his parents and grandparents, and his aunts and uncles and cousins. He rues the family fight (over money, of course) which occurred just after his grandmother's death. It has caused a schism in the family which has resulted in his not having seen an aunt and cousin (her son) in over eighteen years. Also stoking Thomas' reveries is the christening party for his sister's new baby. Should she invite Aunt Florence and cousin Eugene? How will Uncle Rudy react? Would they come? You certainly don't have to be Italian to know this family, and to laugh a little and cry a little along with them.
In time, Thomas feels compelled to make a trip to his grandfather's hometown, Vallata, a mountain village "two hours south of Naples" to visit an aged uncle and cousin who had remained in Italy. As cousin Eugene had visited them, albeit many years ago, Thomas visits Aunt Florence and cousin Eugene in order to learn about where they live and how he can find them. Journeying to and arriving in Vallata, we share the joy which encompasses Thomas and his relatives as the circle of family widens and tightens.
When Thomas returns to New Jersey and gathers his family (on both sides of the divide) together, he will unearth a hurtful family secret. The circle is not fully closed as to the effect of the discovery on him. However, whatever occurs, it seems certain that his emotional ties to his family will remain rock solid. After all, famiglia e famiglia.
Author Joseph Gallo played Thomas in My Italy Story's premiere production in 1993. Although Gallo assures us that the play is not autobiography, it plays like a family memoir. What is more important is that it has the feel of essential truth. Under the sure handed direction of Frank Licato, Vincent Sagona embodies Thomas DaGato as he addresses us in the first person. His portrayals of Frank's relatives are drawn lightly to excellent effect. Differing gestures, movement, dialect and speech patterns mark each family member portrayed, but Sagona deftly employs his light touch to allow him to remain Thomas even as he imitates his relatives as part of his storytelling.
After the performance, individuals approached the colorful map of Italy displayed in the 12 Miles West lobby, and pointed to and proudly spoke of the towns from where their families had come, adding to the pleasure of a most agreeable evening in the theatre. It is good that My Italy Story has arrived safely home in New Jersey.
My Italy Story continues performances (Thurs./Fri./Sat. 8 p.m.; Sun. 3 p.m.) through May 28, 2006) 12 Miles West Center for the Arts, 562 Bloomfield Avenue, Bloomfield, NJ 07003. Telephone: 973-259-9187; online: www.12MilesWest.org/
My Italy Story by Joseph Gallo; directed by Frank Licato
Photo: Chris Woltmann