Italian-American Cantos should be a heartwarming story of family, identity, and love. It should provoke discussion about prejudice, the immigrant experience, about what we owe our ancestors, and what our family owes us. It should be many good things, but unfortunately, it falls frustratingly short.

Anthony P. Pennino's script follows three generations in the large Alighieri (yes, as in Dante) family, and how they deal with their heritage as Italians and their present lives as Americans. The sons of an immigrant, Frank (gently played by Paul Romanello) married a WASP and made a life as a child psychiatrist, while his brother Vincenzo married an Italian woman and continued in the family tradition of running shoe stores. Their children, Giovanni and Vin (respectively) must figure out their place in an America that still mostly views Italians as mafiosos.

So far, so good. We have family conflict, we have cultural identity crises, we have generation gaps- all the stuff of good drama. What we don't have is a polished script to bring these very worthy themes together into a strong play.

Pennino's dialogue is clunky and awkward, and while he steers clear from the traditional Italian stereotypes, he pigeonholes his characters into other worn-out clichés. Vinny is The Misunderstood Street-Smart Tough, Giovanni (who calls himself Gio) is The Confused Intellectual, Frank is The All-Knowing Saintly Father, Vincenzo is The Angry Abusive Father, their sister-in-law Maerose is the Loud Jersey Housewife, and so on. Worse, the non-Italian characters (Frank's in-laws, Gio's prep school roommate) are all stereotyped as bigots who hate or mock anyone different from themselves. Frank's wife Vivian is spared such demonization for marrying an Italian man and raising his children as Catholics. So much for going beyond stereotypes...

The actors, most of whom are not yet professional, make the best of what they've got, but still cannot rise above the caricatures and melodrama. Jarrod Pistilli does some nice work as the troubled Vin, and Joseph Schommer has some good moments as the conflicted Gio. Joseph Camardella is appropriately vicious and bitter as Vincenzo. Thom Weaver's set is simple and sufficient, creating an ambience of home and comfort that works well with the familial tone of the play.

If Pennino's concept didn't show such promise, and if his themes weren't so intriguing, the weak script of Italian-American Cantos wouldn't be such a disappointment. Unfortunately, for all its promise, the play is not the heartwarming family story it could be, nor the in-depth cultural examination it wants to be.

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From This Author Jena Tesse Fox

Jena Tesse Fox is a lifelong theatre addict who has worked as an actress, a singer, a playwright, a director, a lyricist, a librettist, and (read more...)

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