The Alexander Showcase Theatre has a history of presenting operettas and old-fashioned musicals. For their first outing at their new home at the Alumnae Theatre, they are veering a little off-course to present the coming-out comedy Mambo Italiano
. But not that far. In the hands of the talented cast the words are transformed into arias of invective, all with Italian accents worthy of Rossini. And by now the '80s can easily be considered a time and place, far away and long ago where fantabulous stories are told.
After highly successful commercial runs and a moderately successful film, and factoring in general gay fatigue with coming-out stories that are, theoretically, losing their relevance, Mambo Italiano
still sparks laughter of recognition: the very best kind and the most difficult to conjure. The opening-night audience was more older Italian than hipster gay, and that framed the events in a different but welcome way — when was the last time one heard an audible gasp from the audience when homosexuality is revealed? Despite our tribe's supposed talent for wit and repartee, the best lines are given to the Italian mothers. Concetta Guccione and Ruth Miller take the feuding mother roles, tuck them under their arms and strut off in their sensible shoes. Seth Mukamal, as the beleaguered (possibly beleaguering) father, is a more than able foil and gets to provide the heartwarming moments of the piece.
If the women steal the show it is only because of the writing. Both Antonio Olivito and Adam Grech, as the closeted lovers who set the plot in motion, are realistic, funny and very sexy. Their passionate scene on the couch — the only complaint about the production: more shirtless scenes! — is scorching, but more importantly, they subtly convey a couple at ease with each other physically but utterly messy psychologically. Their desire for each other is credible and heartbreaking; more is said in one kiss than pages of dialogue. Deft acting and direction, along with a massive, realistic set, create a credible world within which the characters can unleash their shtick without becoming caricatures. The set is the only problem simply because the numerous scene changes require changes and blackouts that slow down the otherwise fast pacing. But then it pays off in the end with a sight gag that neatly ties the show together, so consider it a draw.
The trauma of coming out and the immigrant experience are neatly contrasted and compared, and the similiarities are illustrated in a funny and entertaining way. Mambo Italiano
is a hearty family feast for gays or Italians, a buffet for those who are both.
Mambo Italiano runs till Sun, Nov 25 at the Alumnae Theatre, 70 Berkeley St. alexandershowcasetheatre.com