Review: (Montreal) St. Léonard Chronicles
No mambo through St. Léonard
by Sarah Deshaies
It doesn’t add up.
“Who builds curved, wooden staircases, outside, in a place where it snows?” questions the old woman seated at the centre of a Sunday family dinner.
That is what immigrant Dora faced when arriving in a wet and idiosyncratic Montreal in April 1955: nonsensical stairs in a cold land. She’s recounting the hardships of arriving in a new country, so different from her native Italy, with one child tucked under her arm and another trailing behind her. “Stupid WOPs, maudits Italiens,” the neighbours hissed at the time. Despite not knowing a lick of English or French, Dora knew exactly what they were saying.
a bombshell is lurking in the sleekly-decorated scene
Nona Dora (Jocelyne Zucco) is sharing her oft-told tale of immigration woe to a not-so captive audience, her family. Seated around the dinner table, there is her daughter Elisa (Ellen David), her grumpy husband Dante (Vittorio Rossi), their son, Robert (Guido Cocomello) and his bride Terry (Christina Broccolini). And there’s also the the in-laws, Terry’s parents: Carmine (Michel Perron) and Gina (Dorothée Berryman, in her Centaur debut and return to the stage after a decade’s pause).
The whole familia is breaking bread at the young couple’s duplex in the Italian enclave St. Léonard on the occasion of Gina and Dante’s 60th birthdays. But a bombshell is lurking in the sleekly-decorated scene: Terry and Robert are about to unveil their intentions to decamp and go west… to Beaconsfield.
That’s right: the descendants of proud born-and-raised Ville-Émard and Little Italy residents will escape to the West of Montreal, where they can hope for a two-storey, detached cottage, free of familial attachments and suffocating familiarity.
Lauded playwright Steve Galluccio’s latest play charts the impact of this revelation, and the dark secrets it dredges up, over the course of a drawn-out dinner of pasta and wine. Known for the charming and sparkling plays Mambo Italiano and In Piazza San Domenico, Gallucio revisits the local, tight-knit Italian community to wring out more family drama.
The simple staging is a departure for Galluccio, who told The Suburban’s Walter J. Lyng that he wanted to pen a show with all his characters together in one location instead of various scenes and locales. The idea is enticing: a dinner party where the characters are plied with wine and food, and family tension is rippling just below the surface, waiting to burst out with Italian gusto. Add in direction from Centaur’s Roy Surette, and Galluccio’s favourite (and talented) players, who’ve worked with him and elsewhere before, and you’ve a got a promising show.
But the execution falls flat because the characters aren’t deep enough, with plot points that come and go in quick succession, like passing landmarks on a bumpy car ride. The audience fell in love with Nona Dora, the crusty and scrappy old lady, and the numerous Montreal references. Though the scene is brimming with family love and drama, this does not feel like a complete piece of work.
Dogged determination, hard work and love have gotten the young Terry and Robert to where they are today as the offspring of immigrant generations who fled war and poverty. But the lasting message of this play for me was that while their families have established themselves amid classist, racist attitudes (“stupid wops”), they still face cruel stereotyping.
“They think we’re all in the Mafia,” worry Carm and Dante - and they’re right. Look no further than the Canadian Italian Anti-Defamation Committee, which is now vowing to file a human rights complaint against a recent Montreal blue collar union ad that depicts a man unloading wads of cash into a safe - with an Italian tune humming in the background.
And no matter where you choose to live, that kind of attitude will always sting.
St. Léonard Chronicles runs to
December 1 December 8
I liked the play overall - it made me laugh and cry - but I agree that the characters weren't deep enough. There was so much potential for more. I also found that the message the characters learned in the second act was learned too quickly and easily. Instead of being 90 minutes long without an intermission, I think it should have been 2 hours long with an intermission so that the second act could have been developed more fully,.ReplyDelete