La Nonna

La Mama La Nonna - photo by Robert SmithItaly’s flavoursome gifts to the world include drinks like the Aperol Spritz. You’ll find the same easy-going frivolity with a little bite in La Nonna.

La Nonna wants to feed the spirit and (for a few audience members) the body, as you would expect from an Italian grandmother. The work draws on creator (and main Nonna character) Samuel Dariol’s conversations with, and recollections of, his own Nonna.

Make-Up design by Keith Solabis and Amaya Vecellio’s costuming effectively prepared us to recognise the arrival of an authentic Nonna. In a red dress and gold jewellery, Dariol addressed us directly about his growing up in Australia, and his concern that being queer and of Italian heritage was a forbidden mix. With the addition of a dark wig, he transformed into the (mostly) implacable Nonna, allowing us access to her history and thoughts about her grandchildren.

Unlike other explorations of the migrant experience in Australia, say Dan Giovannoni’s memorable play Jurassica, La Nonna is too wild to be confined to one genre. Taking place over the course of a week in Nonna’s house, she prepares a dish per night for three audience members who, it was emphasized, must “have no dietary requirements”.

In telling her story, La Nonna was assisted by “friends” (or “gossiping bitches”) Nonna Due (Anna Cerreto) and Nonna Tre (Adam Valdes). In audacious disregard for convention, the two sat centre stage, their antics sometimes wilfully pulling focus away from La Nonna in the kitchen.

At times, this trio of Nonnini, choreographed by Cerreto, tore up the La Mama stage like it was a dance floor. At other times, Cerreto’s Nonna #2 showed an expressive range from wearied to elated, as well as showing off some serious dance moves and a touch of acrid humour. The weight of the world seemed to rest on Valdes’ Nonna #3, but given a chance, she was quite prepared to add sexual suggestiveness to Italian kitchen rituals.

Add to this pop music by singers of Italian origin, pre-recorded video of a shopping expedition, and some other raucous scenes worthy of an Italian parliament, and the audience laughed loudly and often. Yet, the dramaturgy of Lana Nguyen and Justin Nott prevented the show from becoming too bubbly and insubstantial.

Memorable touches featured Jacob Trethowan’s Lighting Design, such as when a stationary Nonna on a plinth was lit from below. Recalling classical marble sculptures in a museum, these serene moments hinted at those enduring features of culture for which Nonna’s everywhere are guardians.

A too-short season at La Mama means that many will miss out on this lively entertainment that lightly relates the reconciling of Italian culture and queerness. That’s unfortunate as, like the spritz, after one taste many will become devotees of La Nonna’s enthusiasm for life. We can only hope that she will return with another course of gluten-laced love in the near future.

La Nonna
La Mama Theatre, 2015 Faraday Street, Carlton
Performance: Thursday 1 February 2018 – 7:30pm
Season: 31 January – 4 February 2018

Image: La Nonna – photo by Robert Smith

Review: Jason Whyte