I have a rule. Read the book first. Always. I never deviate from it. Matt Damon was nominated for an Oscar and virtually everyone I know has seen the movie. I haven’t read the book thanks to my ever growing “to read” pile, combined with my book buying addiction. (Although I bought The Martian, and it finally made its way to the top of the pile.) However, I am about to confess something to you. (And as I am an English teacher by day, please don’t tell my students!) I have not read Ann Hood’s An Italian Wife, and after seeing Epic Theatre’s stage adaptation, I am going to rush out to buy it!
Epic Theatre is on the road again, all the way down to South Kingstown’s Contemporary Theatre Company. And let me tell you, my South County shy Rhode Islanders, it is worth the trip! I always enjoy seeing theater done in that intimate space because there is no escaping the performance. The stage is set with 11 chairs lining the upstage walls. There are two blank canvases hung above them. That is all. And let me tell you, it is lovely. This stripped-down premiere places the importance where it belongs: on the words. Eleven talented women take the stage, ready to play maybe two dozen characters — both male and female — in a story that spans 85 years. The play opens on a young Josephine telling us about her arranged marriage at 15 to a man named Vincenzo. As she ages, the women playing Josephine change. We follow Josephine’s life throughout the play, first from her perspective, then her daughter’s and finally her granddaughter’s. We also witness what becomes of most of the family members. And of course, because it was written by a local author, the story is peppered with Rhode Island locations, and a fabulous Providence joke that could have been the brain child of either Broccoli or Hood. If you haven’t read the book, I don’t want to spoil it, and honestly watching these events unfold without prior knowledge was a fantastic experience for me, and I don’t want to ruin it for anyone!
All of the women are talented in this show. Broccoli put together a dream team of actresses. As much as I would love to talk about each and every actress, I only have so much space! So some quick highlights.
First we need to stop and talk about how brilliant Amy Thompson is playing Vincenzo. He is not the husband of anyone’s dream, and honestly this part could not have been played better by a male. Thompson later plays a priest, to the same aplomb. It is no secret that Thompson is a great performer, but this show serves as a wonderful reminder. Christine Pavao plays a few roles, most notably a young Father Leone, and Carmine, a victim of PTSD, Josephine’s son. She played both to perfection. Caroline Coughlin is a ball of energy as Julia and then Francine. She had audiences smiling as the young Julia, but as Francine she broke hearts. Steph Rodger shines as Chiara, and Jill D. Jones had a beautiful moment at the end of the play that made me wish I had a tissue!
Here’s the thing about this show; it isn’t all about this family. You witness the struggle women have had in this country; a struggle for identity, for family, for a voice. And during an election year where we are so close to a female president, it’s a nice aide-mémoire to the struggles we have had as women, and the struggles we continue to have.
This is a show you really don’t want to miss. I suggest you run down to CTC now. As for me, I am headed to Westminster Street to Symposium Books for my new copy of An Italian Wife.
You can catch The Italian Wife at Contemporary Theatre Company in South Kingston, through Sunday April 3. A Pay-What-You-Can performance is on Thursday, March 31.