Mambo Italiano

Naughty Austin looks to be "coming out" for a more serious production with the gay "straight" play Mambo Italiano

Arts Review

Mambo Italiano

Arts on Real, through March 31

Perhaps no Italian can refuse a request on his or her daughter's wedding day, but what happens when the people marrying each other are both grooms? For Italians, it can end one of two ways: Your parents can either force you to go to confession, pretending that homosexuality was a phase, and then to marry a nice Italian girl, or they can accept and love you for who you are.

Canada might have accepted its gays, but not the overbearing stereotypical parents of Angelo and Nino. The closeted couple in Mambo Italiano never really talk about getting married, but both partners come from similar ethnic households in fair Quebec, where this comedy was written the same year that same-sex marriages became legal. It's a common culture clash for the stage, but it's strange for a Texan to think of Italians in Canada. Then again, have you ever really listened to the lyrics of the tune "Mambo Italiano"? The song represents a celebration of differences of Cuban dance and trying "an enchilada with da fish a bac a lab."

Steve Galluccio, a sitcom writer, wrote a story paralleling his personal experience on the northern side of the continent. His situational comedy is filled with enough boilerplate ethnic shenanigans to give certain big fat blockbusters a run for their money. After a shrinking Angelo tells his swooning parents that his roommate, Nino, is his lover, the couple's parents concoct several ploys to separate them, hoping that one or the other will unexpectedly turn to the opposite sex. But Angelo's freethinking aunt used to dance to "Mambo Italiano" before she passed away, and she comes to embody the liberal attitude of the show.

Naughty Austin likes its musicals and flamboyance, but here the company is coming out for a more serious production. There is no singing or dancing. No gay porn stars (that I'm aware of). No drag queens. The difference in this show becomes apparent as soon as you walk in the theatre, since the set by Blake Yelavich and Bobby Lee is a realistic-looking apartment with the dining room of an Italian family (where the drama usually happens) that is fully decorated with chic light fixtures and elegant window-draping down to the centerpiece and carpeting.

As Angelo and Nino, Errich Petersen and Caleb Straus are masterful. Their masculine chemistry repels any gay typecasting, like the stereotype that gay men never wear tennis shoes. Petersen does well in acting puerile and dejected throughout the show, warming up his rapport by popping pills with his twin sister, played by Breanna Stogner, who succeeds in being wacky and wise. Straus is the most natural Italian of the group, projecting a distinct Brando-like presence. While Christina Little-Manley and Richard Dodwell are perhaps too thin and good-looking for the kind of ethnic types called for by the script, they do well as a comedic duo, playing Angelo's parents like the dorks that ethnic parents can sometimes be. ("No one is a gayer than my son!" says Gino.) The integrity of the production nosedives with forced Italian accents (Texan dialects peek through at times), but Galluccio's humorous script brings things back to a heartwarming level. Whether it's the parents' offbeat culture or the next generation's new lifestyle that displaces them, they find their place with one another.

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