From MagJusJen Entertainment comes the first of three plays written by award winning playwright Vittorio Rossi to be put on at the Moyse Hall Theatre this season: The Chain. A quintessential Montreal story that broke box-office records when it was first presented at the Centaur Theatre in 1988, it made me laugh and also made me cry within a span of 5 minutes – and I’m only distantly Italian. No matter, as soon as I sat down in my seat I felt like part of the family.
We’re transported to Ville-Emard, where Rossi himself grew up. The Testa family is a well-respected immigrant family, living on all floors of a single duplex, which they are proud to own. The Testas are on the ground floor, the Scuros up top, and Joe Testa has a nook of his own in the basement apartment.
Tullio Testa, the solid, no-nonsense patriarch of the family, is once again played by Harry Standjofski (he premiered as Tullio in the original production), and he has emigrated to Canada after an argument with his brother about land-inheritance. They haven’t spoken in twenty years.
When Tullio’s brother announces that he will be coming to Montreal to attend Tullio’s niece’s wedding – to Michael, a young Irish accountant, played by Paul Van Dyck – things start changing in the Testa household, and fast.
Tullio, in an attempt to create the illusion of a life of leisure, suddenly decides to put Massimo in charge of the family business because of his education, even though Joe has far more experience in the field as he has been working alongside his father since he dropped out of school. Thus ensues a hilarious and heartwarming story of one family’s attempt to hold fast to their own culture while reaching for a new kind of success in ‘the new world’.
Vittorio Rossi expertly portrays the characteristic Italian energy on stage, not only with rapid-fire conversation and animated gesutres, but with the bustling of people entering and exiting from all sides at all times. I was captivated by the complexities of the relationships, the honesty in how everyone spoke, and Harry Standjoski’s very convincing Italian accent.
I was interested in every character’s story: Rina Scuro (Paulina Cossio), a young bride about to leave her family for the first time; Enzo Scuro (Giuliano Fiorilli), a boy only just graduating high school who is now becoming the man of the house after his father’s passing three years ago; and Massimo Testa (Saro Saroyan), who is taking on the family business in an attempt to make his father proud, perhaps at the expense of his own happiness.
However, Vince Benvenuto as Joe Testa clearly stole the show, bringing an intensity and animation that kept me on the edge of my seat at his every hand-gesture. Joe, who has more experience in landscaping but who has been pushed aside in favour of his younger brother, is in no mood to smile nice and play the part of a happy family. It’s this fire that makes his character unlike any other. I only hope that by the end of the run he has some of his voice left, because he certainly leaves it all on the stage!
On the other side of the scale, Rina’s relationship with her mother Anna (Alexandra Valassis), who is still in mourning for her late husband after his passing three years ago, brought me to tears. Rina just wants to see her mother happy and free again. She asks Anna to go shopping with her for a dress that isn’t black to wear to the wedding. With tears still streaming down my face, Joe bursts in to liven the mood and put a smile on my face again.
This is a story that is rooted not only in Italian history and culture, but in Montreal’s history and culture that has always been diverse and colourful. It can and definitely should be enjoyed by everyone.
Magjusjen Entertainment presents Vittori Rossi’s The Chain
September 10 – October 6, 2019
Moyse Hall (853 Sherbrooke St. West, Montreal)
$25 – $56
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