Made In Italy a family affair of music, dancing and throwback 1970s nostalgia (2024)

Edmonton playwright and actor Farren Timoteo's one-man show includes music, disco dancing and a big table symbolizing home

Author of the article:

Fish Griwkowsky

Published Jan 05, 2024Last updated Jan 05, 20245 minute read

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Made In Italy a family affair of music, dancing and throwback 1970s nostalgia (1)

Farren Timoteo plays all 26 characters in his whirlwind, big-hearted comedy Made in Italy — and while performing solo, he’s by no means alone on that stage.

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Inspired by his vivacious extended Italian family, it’s no surprise the cacophonous communal dining table of Timoteo’s youth inhabits key narrative territory in his play, which starts its return run Saturday at The Citadel.

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Full of music, disco dancing and that big table symbolizing home, the fictionalized account takes us back to the 1970s, when Francesco Mantini — loosely based on Timoteo’s rock-and-roll musician father Luigi — comes of age in Jasper, inspired by macho heroes like John Travolta and Rocky Balboa much to the chagrin of his immigrant father.

“These characters in this world and this cultural landscape were so important to me growing up,” says Timoteo. “And it got to a point as a theatre artist where it was something I wanted to focus on, especially in the one-person format, and write a bit of a love letter to my culture.

“Having set out with a goal to sort of resurrect a lot of people who are no longer with us, my grandmother as an example,” says Timoteo, “one of the most powerful parts of the experience is that the set is designed to evoke that dining room.”

The hit, Sterling-winning two-act play debuted in 2016 in Kamloops and was last staged at the Citadel 2019. It’s now running again through Jan. 28, including what will be Made in Italy’s 200th performance.

“It’s also covered in pictures of my real family, which is really cool for me,” the playwright-performer notes, “because they literally have my back as I go out there.

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“It’s pretty powerful for me, it does feel very like a room of ghosts.”

Timoteo, who through the years has played everyone from Sir Robin’s bard and the waify singing prince in Spamalot to Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys at The Citadel, notes he’s been riffing on this highly personal material for most of his life.

“I experimented a little bit with standup comedy in high school and most of my material was about my Italian family,” says the 40-year-old who also did family impressions with his father most of his life.

“It wasn’t mean-spirited — we would do it for them, too, and they enjoyed it,” he says. “We were always attuned to the stories and the eccentricities as they were happening, and over the years gathered so much material.”

Turning it into an actual structured play was another thing, of course. Like any good traditional pasta, it needed some meat.

“I had these funny stories and characters,” says Timoteo, “but I wasn’t really sure what the story was until I started to really explore and discover that my father had a difficult experience growing up in Jasper as an Italian, because he was an outsider.”

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Growing up one more generation down in more tolerant times, the playwright found this tension fascinating.

“I thought that was very unique,” he laughs, “because being Italian has always been great for me!

“It’s so reputable for great food, beautiful cars, fashion, architecture, art —the idea of being embarrassed by it was something that created a problem for me that I wanted to explore.”

From here, the sauce started to coalesce.

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“I sort of married that standup comedy world with some of the real-life hardships and experiences of my father and grandfather.”

Notebook in hand, Timoteo met multiple times with his dad amid the brass and parlour walls at The Old Spaghetti Factory downtown.

“Manager’s Favourite every time,” Timoteo laughs, citing the spaghetti-sauce combo plate he’d dine on as his dad would talk about growing up as a performer himself, including putting out an album under the anglicized name Louis Timoteo in 1978 and gigging with a band in Jasper and Edmonton called The Syndicate.

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“I created a treasure trove through my father’s graciousness to share his stories, and with those stories, I was able to combine my memories, my feelings, some concepts I had,” he explains. “I was pretty upfront with everybody that I was going to write something that was deeply, deeply inspired by the Timoteos, but that I reserve the right to change things —it is a work of fiction.”

His father and grandfather’s avatars became Francesco and Salvatore Mantini in the play. Cousins, aunts, sidekicks and even Italian sirens back in the home country all populate Timoteo’s musical story of an immigrant father and son clashing over tradition, versus being accepted in the new world.

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Originally and still directed at an athletic pace by The Citadel Theatre’s artistic director Daryl Cloran, choreographer Laura Krewski helped Timoteo bring Francesco’s fixation of John Travolta’s moves to life.

“I welcome any opportunity to sing the praises of Laura Krewski,” says Timoteo. “It’s important to get it right, and not just because of the musical theatre sophistication aspect, which is that the dances should be impressive for entertainment value, but that they evoke a period so you automatically know what it’s supposed to be.

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“And I think these are moments when the real world disappears and you’re warped into a time capsule, and I do feel a great responsibility not only to do it correctly but to conjure an authentic energy because they’re an opportunity to transport the audience.”

More than this, because the show is so personal, Timoteo felt a larger sense of duty to serve his sources.

“There was so much fear and insecurity seven years ago when I had written it and we were preparing to do it. I just thought, ‘Oh man, did I just exploit everyone’s memory to create a really bad piece of theatre?’

“But to see the joy that it brings is a never-ending point of significance for me — it’s definitely one of those moments where risk equals reward because it was scary to do.”

And how do the real-life inspirations for Francesco and Salvatore feel about it?

“My grandfather unfortunately passed away months before I opened it for the first time,” says Timoteo. “But I honestly think he really would have loved it.

“My father is still around and is probably the show’s biggest fan,” the actor laughs. “He travels the country, wherever I go, he comes to see it.”

fgriwkowsky@postmedia.com

@fisheyefoto

PREVIEW

Made in Italy

Where The Citadel Theatre

When Jan. 6-28

Tickets Starting at $40.25 at citadeltheatre.com

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