Saturday, August 9, 2008

Support Your Local Playwrights!

Last evening I had the pleasure of attending the opening night of the Little Theatre of Manchester's latest production, Sing, Virgie, Sing. It was also the Connecticut premiere of this play, which was written by Wethersfield native Anne Pie (accent aigu over the E; I still haven't figured out how to write accents with Blogger).

Anyhoo, the play takes place in 1945, during the ending days of World War II, and deals with the life of the Bellacastelvetti clan of Hartford. The title character, Virgilio, the Bellacastelvettis' son, suffered an electrocution on the Fourth of July, and no longer can talk, but communicates solely through song. His mother, Josie, is constantly saying novenas to Saint Jude, praying for a miracle. His sister, Raphaela, will not respond to her given name, but the Americanized version, Ella. Ella is embarrassed by her mother's constant praying and doesn't believe in miracles, but relies on the movie stars of the day to escape from her life.

Ella's parents want her to marry Ralph Scotstumato, who owns a produce store in the neighborhood. Ella wants nothing to do with Ralph. Her best friend Tootsie, however, has been in love with him since grade school, but complains that he never notices her. Ella's parents believe that it is destiny, or "il destino", that will lead her to marry Ralph. Ella's father, Frank, rescued Ralph's father from a well, and Ralph's father was so grateful that he promised Frank his firstborn.

Meanwhile, a subplot involves Virgie and his activities after the electrocution. After the doctor examined him and pronounced him OK, Virgie goes to all of the local offices of the four major branches of the Armed Forces and applies to become members of all of them. He receives notices from all of them, which require him to report for boot camp on September 1st.

The title of this play is very misleading. I was led to believe that Virgie was the center of the action, but he is not. He spends most of his time in front of the dining room table, looking around and occasionally breaking into song. He does not break into song that often, though, and when he does, he is sometimes escorted out of the room. The Ella/Ralph romance is the main focus, not Virgie and his performances.

As an Italian-American, I had to laugh at some of the references in the script, such as the Sunday dinners, going to Mass constantly, the overbearing mother, and the belief that Italians can only marry other Italians. However, I was disappointed that there weren't any further references to Hartford in 1945, except for one reference to working at Travelers. There were many references to the classic films of that era, though, but too many. Ella compared so many movie plots to her own life that the device, by the end of the play, had become cliched.

In spite of its flaws, Sing, Virgie, Sing proves to be an enjoyable night at the theatre. Marge Patefield's performance as Mama Bellacastelvetti will remind many of the classic Italian mother, with her constant praying to Saint Jude and mea culpa breast-beating. As Ella, Stacey Hartley displays good chemistry with Patefield in many mother-daughter conflicts that occur throughout the play, particularly when it comes to the issues of love and marriage. But Patricia Urso, in her role as Tootsie, almost steals the show with her portrayal. She is great comic relief, particularly when her character transforms from a mousy Plain Jane wallflower to Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce--which happens to be one of Tootsie's favorite films.

With all of this talk about buying local foods and local products, it's just as important to support local theatre. Sing, Virgie, Sing runs at Cheney Hall in Manchester each weekend until August 24th. Tickets are fairly inexpensive, and there's not a bad seat in the house. Go to for more information. And check out some of the other performances going on at Cheney Hall. It's one of the Connecticut theatre's best kept secrets!

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