Past Reviews

Off Broadway Reviews

Blood Type: Ragu

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Frank Ingrasciotta
Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Salt, pepper, oregano... perhaps basil? Not possessing a native-Italian culinary sense, I can't identity the precise ingredients missing from the boiling-over recipe that is Blood Type: Ragu, the one-man play by Frank Ingrasciotta that is reopening the cozy Actors' Playhouse in the West Village. But what's abundantly clear from merely tasting this show, let alone sitting down for the full 90-minute feast, is that it's missing heaping amounts of both seasoning and spice.

I will submit that it's possible you may feel differently if you or your parents hail from Italy or (as Ingrasciotta does) Sicily. Perhaps in that case these stories about the stomach-twisting nature of fresh ricotta, old-world values of family imploding by way of marriage over the course of the play's three-decade coverage (beginning in 1966), and great gasping bursts of overarticulated vowels and incomprehensible consonants will strike home for you in a way they might for those whose families have for several generations lived in the United States.

But just as dinner at Babbo shouldn't require encyclopedia knowledge of Mario Batali's cooking philosophies, neither should a play about a family from one country require a steeping in that land's geography and language just to make sense. The basics of Ingrasciotta's story seep through - mother and father obligated to their children but not to each other; the siren song of the homeland that calls to everyone eventually; trying to escape your upbringing to find your own way in the world - but his abrasive portrayals of everyone and everything do nothing to nudge his story outside of Little Italy.

Ingrasciotta doesn't make the leap, as all great monologists must, of subverting his "what's'a matta you?" jokifying into humanity identifiable beyond Mediterranean borders. His noodlings with his family's odd funeral rituals, his descriptions of his mother's warmly derogatory nicknames for their neighbors, and his recollection of his brother threatening the mob to answer a slight despite commanding no "people" to speak of are moments far more of audience pandering than cleverness. Even if much of what Ingrasciotta said actually occurred, his embracing of such overexposed ideas and his dinner-party-entertainer persona never convince you it did.

Once he goes down that road, everything else immediately becomes suspect. Perhaps Ingrasciotta's parents really did end with the dallyings and deception from an annoyingly accented woman his father took up with, or perhaps it's just an opportunity for Ingrasciotta to do his Fran Drescher impersonation. There's no way to know. Nor can one immediately divine the purpose or great meaning behind Ingrasciotta's self-indulgent description of how he made a pilgrimage to Las Vegas to lose his virginity to a prostitute after being inspired by a performance of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

Because of such incongruities, Blood Type: Ragu feels as hastily assembled as half-cooked spaghetti dressed with partially frozen tomato sauce. Despite workshopping the show all around the Off-Off-Broadway circuit, neither Ingrasciotta nor director Ted Sod seem to have become aware of how to best achieve the proper flavor balance between memoir, entertainment, and stagecraft. So much time and care has been given the projections (by Joshua Higgason), for example, that at many points their simple photos or artistic renderings of everything from the Sicilian countryside to the family kitchen give you a deeper insight than Ingrasciotta is ever capable of.

Those images, after all, offer definitive points of view unfettered by the concerns of audience expectations that seem to drive the rest of the show, and ultimately drive it right into the ground. They lead you effortlessly through time and space, and provide the heady aroma of places - both exotic or pedestrian - you might enjoy visiting. But you're ultimately never transported because your host, too busy trying to create the perfect dish to please all of his guests, can't escape the kitchen.

Blood Type: Ragu
Actors Playhouse, 100 7th Ave South between Bleecker and Christopher Streets
Performances: Wed 2:00 pm, Wed 7:30 pm, Th 7:30 pm, Fri 8:00 pm, Sat 2:00 pm, Sat 8:00 pm, Sun 2:00 pm, Sun 6:00 pm
Tickets: Smarttix

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