Monday, September 30, 2013

The Abominable Showman, September 30, 2013

l-r Vittorio Rossi, Steve Galluccio, Bugs (photo by Eloi Savoie)
The Italian Stallions
CharPo sits down for a revealing tête-à-tête with Montreal  playwrights Steve Galluccio and Vittorio Rossi – who also co-stars in Galluccio’s new play The St. Leonard Chronicles – and the boys dismiss all talk about their rumoured professional rivalry …
By Richard Burnett (all photos by Richard Burnett except when noted)

There’s one thing that Vittorio Rossi and Steve Galluccio do extremely well, and that’s cuss like sailors.

As we all settle on the terrasse outside the Centaur Theatre’s rehearsal studio on Young Street in Griffintown – the same building that used to house the police station where Susan Kennedy was charged with the beheading murder of Mary Gallagher in 1879 – I tell the boys that if things get a little rough or touchy during the interview, “Just tell me to fuck off and move on.”

“No fucking problem!” says Steve, smiling.

“Fuck do you guys swear a lot!” Vittorio pipes up.

And so begins a no-holds-barred conversation with the two finest Italian playwrights in Montreal.

“In Canada,” they both correct me, with gleams in their eyes.

“I’ve known about Vittorio since his first plays came out,” Steve says about his and Vittorio’s budding bromance.

“My first play was [Little Blood Brother] in 1986, but my first big one was [The Chain] in 1988,” says Vittorio.

“And I thought, Wow, there’s an Italian playwright doing well at the Centaur, and back in those days, after coming out of the Montreal Fringe Festival, I could barely afford to go to the Centaur!” says Steve. “But after I went mainstream with Mambo Italiano, we both knew of each other. And when an actor dropped out of my play In Piazza San Domenico, [Centaur Theatre executive director] Roy Surette suggested we cast Vittorio. I had not known Vittorio as an actor, just as a playwright. So he did the play and we became friends almost immediately.”

When I ask Vittorio when he first heard of this new young punk on the scene, Steve says, “I’m older than him!” 

“By the time the Montreal Fringe started I was already established,” Vittorio says. “But later on Steve’s name would keep popping up. People would come up to me at my shows and go, You heard about this guy called Steve Galluccio?"  I remember thinking at the time it was good that there was another Italian Montrealer writing plays. It helped grow the community, and not just the Italian community.

Then when Mambo ran at the Centaur, it was huge. Back then the Centaur said [my play] The Chain had broken box office records, but Steve came along and just demolished the record! And I thought, Well, fuck, it took another Italian to do it!

Both Steve and Vittorio deny they have a professional rivalry.

“No, not at all,” says Steve. “And I mean that sincerely. There was one that was invented by journalists looking for a story."

Those who say that, if they knew how we grew up – we never met each other’s parents [who have all passed away] – but we know what it was like. Vittorio turns to ask Steve, “Right after high school was there anybody you could rely on to open a door?”

“Oh God, no,” Steve replies.

“Same thing with me. My father was a carpenter, so his colleagues and relatives were all in construction. So his contacts were electricians and bricklayers. That didn’t help me. So I had to do this pretty much alone, open my own doors like Steve did. So believe me, when someone makes it as big as Steve did, you respect that, plain and simple. It has nothing to do with rivalry, it has to do with support. If he does well, I benefit. If I do well, he benefits.”

How do the boys support each other?

“Steve gives me money,” Vittorio cracks.

“We’re passionate about the state of theatre in the rest of Canada,” explains Steve. “We talk about that a lot. We don’t understand why the great diversity you find in Montreal [theatre] you can’t find in Toronto and elsewhere. I mean, the Italian community in Toronto is huge, twice the size of Montreal’s, and why haven’t they produced an Italian playwright that’s doing as big box office as we are? There’s nothing. When we took Mambo to Toronto, they came out in droves. But [local Italian playwrights] aren’t nurtured. Whereas in Quebec we nurture our artists. It’s a Quebec thing. We have our star system and people go out to the theatre. There is a pride that we don’t see in English Canada.”

Italians in Rossi’s Carpenter Trilogy are portrayed as they were historically treated by Quebec in the post-war years: As second-class citizens. Today, Galluccio and Rossi are emblematic of a new Quebec, and the triumph of Italian culture and heritage in their hometown of Montreal.

“The problem I’ve always encountered with my plays is that [audiences] see it as Italian-based, and [theatre directors] ask, will it play here? But beyond that the themes are universal. I don’t have to be Jewish to appreciate Arthur Miller. I don’t have to be from the south to appreciate my favourite playwright ever, Tennessee Williams. I don’t have to be from Chicago to appreciate Mamet."

Just like Vittorio doesn’t have to be gay to embrace Galluccio, who doesn’t have to be straight to slap Vittorio’s back.

“It speaks to the immigrant experience, the drive that we have, because our parents came here to give us a better life,” Steve points out. “To not seize that opportunity would be a waste.”

“My parents saw all of my plays up until the trilogy,” says Vittorio. "My dad died just before I wrote part one, and I thought my mom would live to see it. But she died nine months later.”

“My mom was the first to go, but she was able to see [the original French version of] Mambo at the Jean Duceppe Theatre, and died two days after the opening at Centaur,” Steve says. “She saw the beginning of my success.”

“I’m so happy my folks saw the beginning of mine as well, but my mom would have been proud of me no matter what I did,” Vittorio says. But my father, I had something to prove, and at the opening of The Chain he said, "I don’t have to worry about this boy no more. He’s got it. He’s good."

Steve agrees. “It was amazing for our parents to see our success.”

Galluccio and Rossi are so tight now that Rossi is back on the Centaur stage acting in Galluccio’s new comedy, The St. Leonard Chronicles, which opens on Oct. 1.

“It’s a great feeling!” Steve says, then cracks, “But Vittorio’s never asked me to act in one of his plays!”

“You can act?” Vittorio asks. “I’ll break you in!”

Steve laughs. “Are you kidding? I can’t even remember my own lines!”

“To be honest, it’s not even work. It’s just so much fucking fun!”

The last time I interviewed Vittorio some years ago, I asked him which was better: having sex or seeing his play on a stage with an audience?

Vittorio tells me the exact same answer: “Watching my play! You can have sex anytime!”

Steve doesn’t miss a beat either. “Watching the play performed onstage because I know there’s some money after!”

Galluccio and Rossi may not be laughing all the way to the bank – although advance ticket sales for The St. Leonard Chronicles were so strong that Centaur has already extended the run to Nov. 3 – but clearly Montreal’s two greatest Italian playwrights enjoy entertaining an audience, including this smiling reporter.

“When Steve’s play In Piazza San Domenico finally closed after I don’t know how many extensions, I got an email from Steve that said - the best thing about In Piazza San Domenico is not that it succeeded and made money, it’s that I became friends with you. I was touched by that, it meant a lot to me. This business is tough, you have to deal with huge egos sometimes. So when there’s room for nurture, embrace it. You don’t have to be two gladiators hacking each other’s heads off.”

“I’ve been lucky to work with some amazing people in my career and, fuck, it’s really important to nurture relationships,” Steve says, looking over at Vittorio. “You can be up here one year, but you know in a year or two, you’ll be back down here. It’s so cool to have Vittorio as a friend because he knows exactly how I feel.”

The St. Léonard Chronicles runs at Montreal’s Centaur Theatre from Oct. 1 to Nov. 3, 2013.  Click here for more in for and tickets.

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