Made in Italy: Do they take returns?

publicity photo for Made in Italy

Farren Timoteo in a fun costume by Cindy Wiebe (Photo by Moonrider Productions)

I was sitting in the theatre writing notes about the end of civilization. I mean, I understand the value of distraction, but does it have to be this mindless, this reactionary?

I’m not saying there isn’t skill involved in this production of Made in Italy. Farren Timoteo, who wrote and performs the solo show, is a talented guy.

In Made in Italy, he tells the story of Salvatore, who immigrated to Canada in 1958, and his son Francesco. It’s about Francesco’s coming of age in Jasper, Alberta in the ‘70s. Timoteo structures the play as an Italian meal, which is a nice conceit — and it’s reassuring: you know that, narratively speaking, you’re going to end up with dessert and coffee.

Timoteo is more impressive as an actor. Throughout the evening, he embodies several wild characters — all with signature gestures — and he flips between them with lightning speed. He’s an unabashed physical comedian and a good enough singer. Most importantly, he seems to be having a genuinely good time playing with the audience.

But the material. I don’t know what the Arts Club’s artistic director Ashlie Corcoran was thinking when she programmed this show. (Well, no doubt the cost savings of a one-person vehicle were part of the equation, but there are plenty of those to choose from.)

Francesco’s struggle is that his Italian-ness makes him feel like a freak in Jasper. In high school, a bully named Mark calls him a racial slur. And the arc of the story is about Francesco learning to embrace his heritage. But the characters Timoteo presents are so so broad — broader than Bugs Bunny Italians — that it’s just not funny. To me. The other 299 people in the theatre were rolling.

Before you go, “Okay, you’re just a snob,” consider this: the climax of Act One, the triumph of Act One, comes when teenage Francesco turns into a man. How does he achieve this? By having sex with a prostitute — who is, of course, presented as a goddess in this macho fantasy — on his eighteenth birthday, and by beating the bully, Mark, to a bloody pulp. At least we’re led to imagine it’s a bloody pulp. Francesco doesn’t just defend himself; once Mark is on the ground, he keeps slamming him in the face. Yay Francesco. What a stud. Don’t mess with him. There is no thinking here!

Especially at a time when there are so many crucial things going on in the world, this feels like an insult. It’s certainly an insult to the potential of theatre. I’m not asking for every production to be grim. I’m all for delight. But delight doesn’t have to be this … vacant.

Is there any more insight in Act Two? No. Italians love food. Family is important. Startling.

MADE IN ITALY By Farren Timoteo. Directed by Daryl Cloran. An Arts Club Theatre production based on the Western Canada Theatre production. At the Arts Club’s Granville Island Stage on Thursday, March 24.  Continues until April 17. Tickets


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About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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