Theatre review: Mambo Italiano – a gluttonous feast of Italian stereotypes

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Antacids are definitely in order for those about to dine at the gluttonous feast of Italian stereotypes in the Firehall Arts Centre production of Mambo Italiano.

Joseph Gallaccio and Francisco Trujillo in Mambo ItalianoAngelo (Joseph Gallaccio) is tired of living in the closet.  Problem is, coming out of the closet doesn’t mesh with his traditional Italian upbringing or worse, the boyfriend Nino (Francisco Trujillo) who is so deep in the closet he may very well have discovered Narnia.  But despite the potential for a lot of yelling, and trust me there is, Angelo does come out, signaling the start of this feast of Italian proportions.

Like any proper Italian meal, the stereotypes are served up from the antipasti to the secondo until we’re so full we don’t think it possible that playwright Steve Galluccio could stuff us with more.  But like any good Italian mother, Gallucio is obviously of the opinion that there is always rooma for onea morea meataballa.

Leading the clan are Mama and Papa Barberini (Susan Bertoia and David Adams), perfectly paired as the overbearing wife and mother and the husband who lets her think she is the head of the household.  Bertoia has the Italian sarcasm down pat as she rips apart husband, son, daughter or best friend with a strange little smile on her lips. I couldn’t help but make a comparison to Andrea Martin in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which, perhaps not surprisingly, this show gets compared to quite often.

Gina Chiarelli is hilarious as Nino’s mother who at one point proudly announces it is her Sicilian roots that allows her to break into her son’s apartment even though the doors are locked and the alarm is on.

Gallaccio and Trujillo do good work here but I found it difficult to get past the two sides that playwright Gallucio puts them: Angelo as the self-loathing Italian and Nino as the self-loathing homosexual, as if they were somehow equal .  The playwright also makes Nino so repulsed by his being gay right out of the gate that it is near impossible for us to feel any empathy for him.  By the end of the show one does stop hating himself, but that journey gets lost amongst all the clichés.

Set designer Ross Nichol divides the stage into four areas that should have easily moved us from scene to scene but somehow felt labored.   Coloring it all, both in Nicol’s set and Rebekah Johnson’s lighting, in the green, white and red of the Italian flag felt a little unnecessary.   There also appeared to be some confusion around the time period and I couldn’t help but think a clearer understanding of time might have helped to put some of the more serious issues into some cultural context.

In a Twitter exchange this morning playwright Steve Gallucio told me that a film sequel to Mambo Italiano is in the works.  While he provided no details when I asked him where he thought Angelo and Nino might be now, I’m hoping that wherever it is I won’t need my antacids.

3 1/2 of 5 Stars Mambo Italiano

By Steve Galluccio.  Directed by Donna Spencer.  A Firehall Arts Centre / Western Canada Theatre co-production.  On stage at the Firehall Arts Centre through April 30, 2011.

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