What if my big fat greek wedding had a Big Fat Italian Relative who just happened to be gay and born in Montreal?It might be something like Mambo Italiano, Montrealer Steve Galluccio's heartwarming tale about a young man (OK, not so fat) falling in love and coming out amidst the hysteria and hilarity of his Italian family.
A huge hit in Montreal, the play almost didn't happen. Galluccio, who was crowned unofficial king of Montreal's underground theatre scene in the early 90s, gave up theatre for TV in 95.
"I was getting wonderful audience response, people in fur coats were sitting on floors in lofts to see the shows, but it wasn't paying," recounts Galluccio, who says he's always been inspired less by theatre role models than by classic 70s sitcoms like All In The Family and Maude.
"I was tired. I couldn't continue to do everything."
While in TV, where his writing's earned three Gemeaux (Gemini) Awards, Galluccio remembers watching an earnest Oprah episode near the time of the Ellen DeGeneres coming-out episode.
"A bunch of kids and their parents were discussing how they'd watched the show together, and it was all so civilized," he laughs on the phone from Montreal. "All I kept thinking was, "That's not how it would happen in an Italian family.' I wrote a scene, and a friend told me I should write a play. He knew it would be a hit."
A finished script found its way into the hands of Michel Tremblay, who knows a thing or two about gay themes and loud urban families. Impressed, Canada's most renowned international playwright decided to adapt the work and translate it into French.
"The fact that Michel liked the play thrilled me," says Galluccio. "He's an icon. To have him translate it meant that it wasn't going to disappear. He understands French perfectly. He was the best person to do it."
After a successful French production and a tour that travelled across Quebec, an English version set records at Montreal's Centaur Theatre and spawned a film version out this summer starring Mary Walsh and Paul Sorvino.
Galluccio, who's dealt with gay themes before in plays like Peter N' Paul Get Mary'd, claims the play wouldn't have been produced in big theatres 10 years ago.
"I think the mainstream has changed. It's caught up," he says. "Look at what comes into the home. The Internet, Will & Grace, Sex And The City, The Sopranos. These weren't around a decade ago."
Galluccio's wary of those who complain about stereotyping in works purporting to be about minorities, sexual or ethnic.
"A few people, all non-Italians, have told me that these characters are stereotypical," he laughs. "The fact is, I've toned these characters down. If I were to write the real thing, you wouldn't believe it. It's not a bad thing, but we Italians tend to be overdramatic. All the Italians I know have said it's like putting a camera in their living room.
"As far as the gay characters are concerned, these two are very much in the closet. They're just people who happen to be gay."
Like Galluccio, presumably.
"What does coming out of the closet mean anyway?" he argues. "I never came out, because I never felt like I was in anything. Listen, this is not a play for you if you're a gay activist type who's very political."email@example.com
mambo italiano by Steve Galluccio, directed by Gordon McCall, with Andreas Apergis, Ellen David, Joseph Gallaccio, Suzanna Le Nir, Mary Long, Penny Mancuso and Michell Perron. Presented by David and Ed Mirvish in association with Centaur Theatre at the Elgin Theatre (189 Yonge). Previews from Saturday (January 11), opens January 16 and runs to February 23, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Wednesday, Saturday-Sunday 2 pm. $31-$71. 416-872-1212.