In the Barberini family, there are only two reasons for children to leave the nest: marriage or death. So when only son Angelo decides to move out on his own, his parents and sister are aghast and confused. Why would he want to leave such a close-knit, loving Italian home? Thank goodness he’s sharing his new flat with childhood best friend Nino, a tough policeman who will surely keep their son on the straight and narrow. Of course, all hell breaks loose when Angelo reveals to his family that he and Nino aren’t just sharing an apartment; they’re sharing a bed.
The play is Mambo Italiano, and the plot is based on writer Steve Galluccio’s own coming-out story. Galluccio later adapted the story for the 2003 film of the same name, but Toronto audiences can now see the original play in a production courtesy of the Alexander Showcase Theatre.
For the company’s producer, Steve Kyriacopoulos, Galluccio’s story hits close to home. The son of Greek immigrants, Kyriacopolous also grew up feeling the weight of his family’s heterocentric expectations when it came to his life’s path. Sadly, he didn’t get as far in his own coming-out story as Angelo.
“My partner and I had finally made that decision,” he says. “But by the time I was ready to tell my parents, one parent was on her death bed and one had had a stroke — so we never got to have that conversation.”
Having now reached the age of Angelo’s parents, Kyriacopolous initially wondered whether this sort of coming -out story would ring as true, given the changing attitudes toward gay children by parents who grew up in a less oppressive atmosphere. He needn’t have worried.
“We really did ask ourselves if this play is still relevant,” he says. “When I was in high school, the idea of a gay-straight alliance didn’t exist, and having it as part of the curriculum wasn’t even talked about. I’ve been living in Toronto for 25 years, and it can be easy to forget we kind of live in a bubble. But some of my younger co-workers are straight and talk about being from a small town, where if you’re even just a little nerdy you’re called ‘faggot.’”
Kyriacopolous also points to the riotous portrayal of the Barberini family for the play’s enduring appeal, where quips and one-liners abound in a gloriously politically incorrect celebration of the Italian family.
“This is also so much about being Italian,” he says. “Not just their relationship to each other, but their relationship to food. They’re loving and loud, and I can relate to that because my family is Greek, and we’re loud too.”
Kyriacopolous confesses to feeling a kinship with butch cop Nino, who is convinced his homosexuality is a complete secret to his family and friends. “Nino is so tortured,” he says. “He was the high-school jock, Mr Popular, but also closeted and miserable.
Here I thought I was like Nino when I was that age, but the reality is that everyone around me already knew. So why play that game anymore? It’s much easier to just face it and move forward.”