REVIEW: Huge talent ignites colour and laughter in the Citadel's Made In Italy

Award-winning Farren Timoteo is exuberant, dynamic and in full command of the comedian’s repertoire pulling one hilarious expression after another from his stock of options

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Being invited to someone’s home for dinner is an honour. For the audience at The Citadel during Made in Italy, it’s also a hilarious opportunity to see inside the Mantini family as local actor Farren Timoteo shares his origin story in the Shoctor Theatre.

“What’s the most important piece of furniture in the house?” asks Salvatore Mantini, the patriarch of the story, in the opening moments of Made in Italy. 

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It’s the table, of course, where generations gather to share meals and to build and maintain the foundation of the family. Throughout the two-act, two-hour-and-10-minute play, Salvatore (a character loosely based on Timoteo’s grandfather) brings a parade of dishes to a massive, ornate table at centre stage. As he describes the dishes — delivered in their traditional order from aperitivo to dolce — we feel his pride. We also get to meet some 26 characters, all played by Timoteo, that arrive in one form or another at, or on, the table, which serves as a second stage in a charming set designed by Cory Cincennes.

Photographs of those characters (some of the pictures are of authentic Timoteo family members) are displayed on a frame-studded dining room wall behind the table. In a clever and effective lighting design by Celeste English and Conor Moore, the frames are illuminated from within to help change the tone and even the location throughout the show.

Made in Italy set
Made In Italy is Farren Timoteo’s solo show inspired by his large, Italian family, and runs at Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre through Jan. 28. Photo by Nanc Price /Supplied

The play describes the journey Salvatore took in 1958 from Abruzzo to Jasper, Alberta, where he worked on the railroad until he earned enough money to bring his family over to join him. By the time he was able to build a home and furnish it, with the table at its heart, Salvatore’s wife had died and it was his brother and sister-in-law who brought his baby, Francesco, to live in a new and foreign land. 

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Despite Canada’s reputation as a mosaic of beloved immigrants, the kids in Jasper were not kind to Francesco (a character inspired by Timoteo’s father’s true story). He endured bullying for turning up at school wearing a suit and carrying a lunch defined by smelly cheese. As Francesco struggles to make his way, he and Salvatore are frequently in conflict. Salvatore wants Francesco to make him proud by singing solos in church, in Italian, which only serves to further ostracize the boy from classmates. Francesco wants to pursue a career in pop music; his father favours a more traditional path. Eventually, there is a rupture.

Timoteo first brought his family’s story to the stage in 2016 during a run at Western Canada Theatre in Kamloops, where The Citadel’s artistic director Daryl Cloran (who directs) was in charge at the time. Commissioned by WCT, the play started its life as a one-act in 150-seat houses. But it quickly proved so popular that regional theatres from Vancouver to Hamilton were asking it be up-sized and adapted for their main stages. Made In Italy has also been a hit in Calgary and Winnipeg. After this run in Edmonton (the show’s third time performed here), Timoteo goes on the road for a tour of British Columbia.

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It’s a rare treat to spend an evening with a talent like Timoteo. Edmonton audience members may know the multiple award-winner from his comedic roles in shows like The Citadel’s Peter and the Starcatcher and Spamalot, or a Grand Time in the Rapids at Teatro Live! He’s also got great pipes, beautifully inhabiting characters such as Frankie Valli in last year’s Citadel production of Jersey Boys. 

But reading his resume and watching him on stage are two different experiences. Timoteo is an exuberant and physically dynamic actor and singer. He leaps from floor to chair to table, microphone in hand, to perform songs ranging from Italian arias to Bee Gees hits. Francesco came of age when disco ruled and Rocky Balboa was a role model for Italian boys fighting discrimination. (Watch for a star turn by a one-armed pushup.)

But most of all, Timoteo has full command of the comedian’s repertoire. He does imitations and pratfalls. His face stretches like pizza dough as he pulls one expression after another from his stock of options. Watching him hike his pants ever higher is side-splittingly funny. He’s so silly. Like proud family members watching a beloved son or nephew, the audience roars with approval.

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That doesn’t mean the play is absent moments of drama and sadness, which are part of every family story. Timoteo gives his characters humour, but also humanity, showing them with their flaws and foibles. Toward the end of the show, it seemed events would conspire against our newly-embraced Italian relatives, and I worried it would not be alright in the end. Because I love that family.

But looking back, I see there was a hint from the very start. Because great meals always end with dessert. As Salvatore reminds us, “Otherwise, what’s the point?”

Dolce
Made In Italy is Farren Timoteo’s solo show inspired by his large, Italian family and runs at Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre through Jan. 28. Photo by Nanc Price /Supplied

REVIEW

Made in Italy, written and performed by Farren Timoteo

Director Daryl Cloran

Where The Shoctor Theatre at The Citadel, 9828 101 A Ave.

When Until Jan. 28

Tickets From $40.25 at citadeltheatre.com

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