Fringe Review: Italian matriarch poignantly safeguarded in words and music in “Nonna’s Story”


(Image courtesy of vi.Va?VOOM! productions)

The sense of smell is closely linked with memory, more so than any of our other senses. Playwright/performer Antonio Bavaro wears a sweater that he took while cleaning out his Nonna’s place, “It smells like rosewater, Charlie perfume and garlic.” He wore it so often, eventually having to wash it, cleaning away the instinctive memories produced. That’s why he wrote Nonna’s Story; to preserve his grandmother.

Okay – truth up front – I love hearing Italian. I love hearing songs in Italian. Bavaro delivers both while searching for and retelling the stories of his Nonna, born in 1916 in Campania, Italy during WWl. You are put in the mood right away when you walk in – Italian from the get-go. Classic Italian tunes play and there’s a doily under the red lamp next to the high-backed chair with a red velvet cushion. If there would have been a sofa, you can bet it would have been sealed in plastic.

Set in front of a backdrop of a collage of family photos in a video montage by Johnny Forever, Bavaro sets out to discover the history of this special woman who invested herself in her children her whole life. There is an aching, heartwarming love throughout the work. While trying to get to know his grandmother and understand what she went through, Bavaro learns that family is ‘simply complicated’, and that people should eat together. We learn along with him about the southern Italian immigrant experience, including marrying by proxy and how his grandmother dealt with raising children in the new world. “I kept my emotions inside… mostly”, Nonna confesses. Bavaro wholly embodies his father and other family members while he asks about the youthful Nonna he never knew. We are with him every step of the way.

Grandmother and grandson share the love of and talent for singing. I loved the treasured story of his shy grandmother sitting at the beauty parlor under the loud hum of the old-fashioned over-your-whole-head hair dryer, softly humming a tune to herself which eventually turns into a full-blown, out-loud song. I was moved when he sang to her in Italian while she lay in bed – frail and unspeaking – the last time he saw her alive.

Best known as alter-ego drag queen Connie Lingua and part of House of Laureen, this is the side of Bavaro we don’t often get to see – on stage as himself. He draws us into the story and his family portrayals. Bavaro is noticeably moved, and we are too, “This woman, this amazing and simple soul is my sunshine. Sometimes in dark moments, her memory is too bright for my eyes and I turn away…”

This is a charming, funny, honest and heart-felt show; at thirty minutes, you should fit it into your Fringe schedule. It will offer a warm yet air-conditioned break from the frenzy.

Review by Montreal Theatre Hub Fringe Contributor Janis Kirshner

vi.Va?VOOM! productions presents “Nonna’s Story”

When: June 9 – 18, 2017
Where: MAI (Montréal, arts interculturels), 3680 Jeanne-Mance
Admission: $10
Duration: 30 minutes
Tickets: | 514.849.FEST (3378)

Official Media Partner of the 2017 St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival

Check out our other 70+ reviews from this year’s Fringe!

Janis Kirshner

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