When Farren Timoteo walks on stage as Salvatore Mantini in his white button-up collar shirt and his blue button-down sweater, there is this quiet space that I think only happens in live theatre, a time when the artist on stage in a solo show has everyone’s attention and everyone takes a collective breath. The audience decides in this quiet space whether they are going to believe the artist on stage. With Timoteo, we are swept away. His comedic timing is impeccable and his improvisational skills are exceptional. Made In Italy features a story that resonates deeply with immigrant families; parents who immigrated, and the :children born here. It’s such a story of truth on both sides and it’s told in a heartfelt way. Timoteo fills the Martha Cohen stage with his presence and heart.
Made In Italy starts with Salvatore Mantini in 1975, talking about the table in the middle of the dining room, “the heart of the home,” and the place where family comes together to share a meal. He speaks about being at the head of the table and how his son Francesco is always beside him, the second in command. We leave Salvatore’s storytelling to hear from Francesco and the worst day of his life. This is when he meets a girl on a bike in his neighbourhood, he falls in love with her and she dismisses him because of his shoes. This moment drives Francesco to blend into the background and be invisible but the school bully won’t let him. Salvatore argues with Francesco when he hears that his son is in a fight at school when it turns out that the bully beat up Francesco. He did not put up a fight. We also hear from Salvatore about his immigration journey complete with Francesco breaking in to tell us how it is. Things change when the family returns to Abruzzo, Italy, and Francesco finds a place to belong.
Along with his newly found cousin Peppino, Francesco has his first experience with the opposite sex and finds the confidence to change the course of his life. This leads him down a path of fighting, taking power back into his own hands, and pursuing singing as a career. It leads to a chasm between him and his family, a push and pull between the traditions and expectations of family and leading his own life.
Timoteo is a playwright and solo performer and he deserves all the accolades. He switches seamlessly between characters it feels like there are multiple people on stage. He makes fun of the parts where the transitions are not as smooth. He plays young and old and is also a Saint. It’s so much fun and is totally immersive. Cory Sincennes set design never changes, though the setting of the play constantly shifts and it’s fascinating that the actual scenery doesn’t change. It remains the same and the changes take place in our imaginations, with the assistance of Cindy Wiebe’s costume design as well as Celeste English’s lighting design along with Mishelle Cuttler’s sound design. All of these elements transport you from a performance stage in Edmonton to a brothel in Italy. Wiebe’s costume design deserves an extra nod for being so much fun and English’s lighting design makes the play transformative.
Made In Italy is solo theatre that is well-balanced, a story that resonates with real emotional connection. Timoteo is an artist with the ability to make you laugh and connect with various characters and references to pop culture that gives the entire production a contemporary feel. This is a show that you shouldn’t miss.
Made In Italy is a co-production between Theatre Calgary and Alberta Theatre Projects. It runs until November 11th. More information can be found online.