"Philly's Coolest Actress" has arrived in Pittsburgh for the first of two stints at the City Theatre's Hamburg Studio. Jilline Ringle comes bearing food, stories, and a warm and charming persona. Her 90-minute solo show consists of a large repertoire of songs about food interspersed with humorous and touching stories about family and food, all presented while Ms. Ringle cooks an Italian dish for the audience of 100.
Jilline Ringle was raised by her Sicilian mother and grandmother ("Nana") with the simple philosophy that "food is love." Food was an important component of all of the many memories of her childhood, and Ringle easily conveys to the audience how important preparing and sharing food is within a family or community. At 6'2", Ringle easily has the physical presence to hold one's attention in the small theatre, but it is her dimpled smile and the sincerity with which she shares her personal vignettes that place the audience in the palm of her hand.
Starting out with the classic "Come On-a My House," Ringle displays her versatile and more than capable singing voice which can handle the many styles of songs she chooses to sing. Many songs are familiar, many are not, but they all center around the subject of the evening - food. The double entendre laced "Don't Touch My Tomatoes" and "Pizza" show Ringle's bawdy side while "Mamma (Mamma)" is sweet and touching. Most of the songs are sassy and humorous, including "The Frim Fram Sauce" and "Sick O Chicken", the latter of which is a very funny punchline to a story about "ladies' luncheons." Other stories Ringle relates are about aunts who worry about everyone, even Big Sam, getting enough to eat, backyard get-togethers, and her close relationship with her Mamma and her Nana. The way she describes her family members by their prominent traits encourages the audience members to reminisce about their own families, Italian or not.
The theatre is decked out in two-person round tables with red and white checked tablecloths. There are several long tables on the main floor as well. Ringle performs from the excellent '50s kitschy kitchen set created by Tony Ferrieri. With cupboards of foodstuff, a pig cookie jar, a crucifix and picture of Jesus, a cooktop and a prominent photo of Ringle's mother as a young woman, the set is wonderful to look at - and functional.
Ringle is accompanied by Jason Coll, Pittsburgh CLO's creative director, and he does a fine job playing the piano and being Ringle's occasional straight man. He also periodically encourages her to get on with the cooking so that her delicious Italian preparation (at our performance, Pasta Bolognese) is ready to serve near the end of the show. This is only fair since the audience is salivating by that time from the aroma of garlic, olive oil, and basil. A small serving is presented to each audience member and, with the wine sold by the carafe at the start of the show, it comprises a nice evening snack, just in time for Ringle's parting "go forth and eat" salute as she finishes up the show.
Jilline Ringle is a tremendously talented and effusive actress. Her non-stop show is full of humor and joy; a wonderful escape from the pressures and worries of our world today.
Mondo Mangia runs through November 18 at the City Theater's Hamburg Studio. A return engagement is scheduled for January 29 to March 10, 2002. Tickets are $27 and $32 with rush prices for seniors and students. For further ticket information, call the City box office at 412-431-2489 or visit www.citytheatrecompany.org.
-- Ann Miner