Anna Meade Engard, Rita Hight, Carol Williams, Jacob Cooper, & Kristy Calman. Photo: Pandora Productions.
My Big Gay Italian Christmas
By Anthony Wilkinson
Directed by Jason Cooper
Review by Annette Skaggs
Entire contents are copyright © 2018 Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.
Oh, that joyous time of the year when we have the want/need/desire/dread of going to see our beloved families celebrate what the season is all about – love. The Pinnunziato family is no different. Or are they?
Matriarch Angela (Barbara O’Daniel-Munger) is opening her Staten Island home to all of her family, close and extended, especially for her children Maria (Anna Francis) and Anthony (Jacob Cooper). As news of a pending storm blares across the living room television the doorbell gets busier and busier. One by one Angela’s family arrives; Trump loving cousin Toniann (Kristy Calman) and Josephine (Anna Meade Engard) who is causing Angela grief because of her new Farm to Table diet.
When Maria arrives she looks to be about 10 months pregnant. Angela keeps prodding about her husband Howie and grandson only to have Maria dodge the question by saying he’s visiting his family. All breathe a great sigh of relief as Anthony makes his way through the storm to the warmth of his mother’s hearth. But he’s not alone.
When last we visited the Pinnunziato family Anthony was involved with Andrew. Unfortunately, Anthony and Andrew didn’t last. But, while on a trip to Dallas to promote the uber-successful Body Body, Anthony met the handsome and successful heart doctor Victorio (Elliott Talkington). The two fell head over heels and Anthony was ready to introduce him to the family.
As you can imagine, thousands of questions start flying about the new couple and they are all met with approval and sighs of love. As the night goes on the weather gets worse. As the snow piles up on the outside, the stories, reveals, and lies keep piling on in Angela’s living room, too. One huge secret revealed is that Victorio is still married…..to a woman. And who should show up, but the wife, Olivia (Jessica Tanselle), having tracked her husband there, even defying Officer Kelly’s (Jared Burton) warning to go back because of the storm.
In the hubbub of the domestic dispute unfolding between the married couple, nuns (Carol Williams/Rita Hight) are singing outside, which offers a little balm for the situation. Soon they are invited into the home only to be there in the nick of time to help with Maria who has gone into labor. Only in New York, right?
What else is revealed this Holiday season? Does everyone survive the worst snowstorm in recent memory? Does Maria have her baby? What happens to Anthony and Victorio?
This show is filled with all kinds of memories of Holidays past; not necessarily for me alone, but from stories that I have heard told over the years from other family and friends. I would venture a guess that author Anthony Wilkinson drew from his own family tree and gossip line. After all, isn’t that all part of the Holiday cheer?
Jessica Tanselle was every bit what I would think a spurned wife, with Italian attitude, would be. Not to mention that her coat was to die for. While Anna Meade Engard’s wig for Josephine could have used a little toning down, her portrayal was hilarious. Even down to the way that she would obviously cheat on her diet. Kristy Calman’s Toniann was part ditzy and part revelatory. It was interesting to hear what her character would say next, sometimes leaving the audience, as well as the cast, shaking their head in disbelief. While Anna Francis as Maria didn’t have a lot of stage time, she made up for it in her closing scenes with some funny antics, asides, and revelations. Barbara O’Daniel-Munger was equal parts frantic and nosy as Mama Angela; exactly as I’d imagine that character to be. But boy oh boy, does she love her Xanax. Elliott Talkington’s Victorio is suave and debonair, not to mention a sweet talker.
With this being the fourth installment of the “My Big Gay” stories, it is hard to imagine anyone else as Anthony but Jacob Cooper. He really puts himself on the stage each and every time: vulnerable, susceptible, strong, loving, and romantic. The other cast mates certainly added well-rounded notes, especially Carol Williams as Sister Fabiana. You’ve got to love a nun whose tongue is a little loose.
Production wise. Nailed it!!! The set was decorated so well: not too fashionable, not too gaudy. When you see this show, please pay attention to some of the funny props and pictures that surround the living room. Thanks to Jill-Marie Schierbaum and Robyn Maitland. I do have to ask though, how many households have a random bottle of olive oil sitting on their doorway table?
Another highlight was the costumes, with appropriate sequins and holiday applique everywhere. Great job Susan Toy. Jesse Alford’s lights and Laura Ellis’ sound were just right. Jason Cooper’s direction was purpose driven and had very little slow moments.
So if you aren’t offended by the F-bomb every few minutes and love to see the inside of a loving Italian family like the Pinnunziatos, I highly recommend this comedy that will help you warm up with deep belly laughs on a cold holiday season night.
My Big Gay Italian Christmas
November 9 – 24, 2018
At The Henry Clay Theatre
604 South Third Street
Louisville, KY 40202
For tickets go to: Pandoraproductions.org
Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over the course of 25+ years’ experience in the classical arts.