Staunch, loud Italian characters populate the plays of Steve Galluccio. The Montreal playwright, who first made a name for himself writing campy one-acts for the city’s Fringe Theatre Festival in the ’90s, has become renowned for taking ethnic stereotypes and turning them into crowd-pleasing comedies. His penchant for low-budget, silly theatre that relied on characters like Batman and Robin and the Brady Bunch led the Montreal press to dub him the “King of Gonzo Theatre.”
But when Galluccio decided to tell the story of a young gay man struggling to come to terms with his sexuality in Montreal’s notoriously conservative Italian community, it led to his biggest hit. While writing for French-language comedy TV in Quebec, Galluccio also managed to pen Mambo Italiano, in which an Italian man deals with his horrified parents and an Italian lover who can’t cope with being in a relationship with a man. The show was especially noteworthy because it was being done by the Jean-Duceppe Theatre Company, and was being translated into French by Quebecois literary godfather Michel Tremblay. The show proved a big hit, and then opened in English at the Centaur, where it was so popular it was held over for several months. It eventually became the longest-running show at the Centaur, breaking the record of David Fennario’s legendary show about a linguistically-divided Montreal, Balconville.
In 2003, Mambo Italiano was made into a movie, and featured a kick-ass cast (including Luke Kirby, Mary Walsh, Paul Sorvino and Tim Post). Mambo was a rarity in the Quebec film milieu, a comedy made in English that nonetheless became one of the box-office successes of the year. It is still listed by the Canadian government film-funding arm Telefilm as one of the biggest box-office hits of the past decade.
Galluccio has continued to write for Quebec TV comedy series, and penned the movie melodrama Surviving My Mother (2007), about a young woman’s strained relationship with her overbearing mother, and Funkytown, based on Montreal’s disco underground scene of the ’70s and ’80s (which just wrapped shooting).
This season sees Galluccio returning to the theatre with In Piazza San Domenico, a period comedy set in 1952 Naples in which romantic misunderstandings never seem to stop. Inspired by the romantic comedies of yesteryear, the show opened last week but has already been held over into November due to brisk ticket sales. Galluccio sat down to talk with Xtra.ca about his latest play.
Xtra.ca: What inspired this play?
Steve Galluccio: I really wanted to do a comedy after Surviving My Mother and Funkytown. And I thought I’d love to write something for Sophia Loren. So I thought why not write something that would have Loren in the lead? It’s an outright comedy from beginning to end. I wanted to write something that would entertain. The last two things were quite serious. I wanted it to be a very light romantic comedy-no big message, just a fun comedy.
Xtra.ca: You wanted to get in touch with your inner superficial queen?
SG: (laughs) Maybe. But comedy isn’t superficial, of course. It’s a very hard genre to tackle.
Xtra.ca: What would you say your main influences were with this?
SG: The Italian comedies from the early ’60s. The characters that Anna Magnani played, the characters that Sophia Loren played, where the characters were unabashedly Italian and over-the-top and proud of it. I watched The Rose Tattoo again recently, and I loved Magnani’s performance in that. The cast looked at that film and I asked them what they thought of Magnani’s performance, and they thought she was over-the-top. But I actually think she’s just right in the film. A perfect Italian with all the passion and fiery spirit we all have.
Xtra.ca: Of course, Magnani had a huge gay following and was quite operatic in her style.
SG: I don’t know that people will see this as an opera, but it’s a bit of a musical.
Xtra.ca: Do you feel a lot of pressure, since this is the first play since Mambo Italiano? That was the longest running play in the Centaur’s history.
SG: I guess there might be some comparisons, but I don’t feel the pressure at all. The success of Mambo was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. We’ll do very well with this show, but I’m not feeling the pressure also because theatre’s not the only thing I do, I write film and television as well. So there have been other projects in between.
Xtra.ca: Now you’ve written for both stage and screen. What’s the biggest difference?
SG: The stage is a lot more dialogue driven. It’s probably the one place where the playwright works quite purely and you pretty much can tell what the finished product is going to look like, though there are inevitably some surprises. But with film and TV you never know what the finished project is going to look like. There’s a lot of rewriting in film and TV. Sometimes you’ll just be told, ‘Guess what? We’re over budget so you’re going to have to rewrite that.’ In film you’re called almost every day to solve a problem. You have to work around things and change things.
Xtra.ca: Brad Fraser has said recently that gay content is a much harder sell in the theatre these days.
SG: I really don’t know. I don’t really write with gay content in mind. If a character feels right as a gay character, then of course I make them that way. There aren’t any gay characters in this play, but of course much of it will appeal to gay theatregoers, because the women are strong and over-the-top. It will be very popular with gays, I suspect. I don’t really want to be the guy who does farce, or the guy who writes Italian, or the guy who writes gay. I like to write in any genre I can, which is what I’ve done now. The only one I can’t see myself getting into is horror or science fiction. But who knows? Maybe I’ll get there one day.
In Piazza San Domenico is now playing at Montreal’s Centaur Theatre, and has been held over until Nov 8. Ticket info: 514-288-3161 or Centaurtheatre.com.