||A Review of: Mambo Italiano
by Lia Marie Talia
Last Christmas I dragged my father, brother, and sister-in-law to
see the film version of Mambo Italiano. I thought that as a
first-generation Canadian, and the son of Italian immigrants, my
father would enjoy the cultural context of the movie, and I thought
the rest of us would enjoy its social critique. I said the movie
was about an Italian family, but I didn't mention that it was about
a young gay man finally admitting his sexual preference to his
family. I was hoping my family might learn something about tolerance.
Most plays, but few contemporary movies, share a teach and please'
agenda; to my relief, the big-screen version of Steve Galluccio's
successful two-act comedy maintained its theatrical integrity. The
play, however, is far more provocative.
Mambo Italiano is about Angelo's quest for love and acceptance. He
is a young gay man in his mid-thirties from a traditional Italian
family living in Montreal. His parents, Gino and Maria Barbieri,
are Italian immigrants who still speak with slight accents and who
long to live out the Canadian dream'-a life of financial security
and comfort. Angelo and his slightly neurotic sister Anna, however,
don't share their parents' expectations. Despite their genuine
affection for their family, each sibling struggles to disengage
from the stultifying effects of their often-overbearing love. Angelo
wants to come out to his family about his homosexuality and his
longtime lover, Nino. Anna's expectations are less defined; she
wants the members of her family to get along, but she also wants
an opportunity to discover life beyond them. For both siblings, the
prospect of establishing their independence seems daunting. The
play explores the delicate dynamics of this family as the parents
and children try to understand each other, despite their differences.
It is fast-paced, funny, and deeply engaging. The staging is inventive
and challenging. For example, in the tenth scene of the first act,
Angelo and Nino come to a passionate reconciliation entirely without
words, but with quite explicit actions. This sexual interaction
goes far beyond what was included in the film version, but the
staging here is a strong assertion of the beauty and sensuality of
the gay couple's deep affection. For all the stress and complications
that ensue for the Barbieris, we do get a balanced and compassionate
view of each of the family members. They come through their conflicts
with a renewed appreciation and a greater tolerance for one another.
While things don't work out for any of them exactly as they planned,
they do discover how to make more of what they have. Angelo's journey
ends with him dancing to his own rhythm, confidently stepping out
in a new direction.
While I can't say that my father, brother, and sister-in-law
appreciated Mambo Italiano quite as much as I did, all found something
to which they could relate-the fact that they did is proof that
Steve Gallucio's script can transcend the reservations of even the
most reluctant audience.