To keep hold of their culture in a new land, migrants preserve rituals from home. Italians arriving in Australia in the 1950s retained the annual family gathering to make enough tomato sauce to last through the winter.
But what happens when later generations aren’t interested in traditions? We see how some Italian grandmothers try to handle this in (the accurately titled) La Nonna’s Saucy Sauce Day.
Two Nonnas, a dramatic one (Samuel Dariol), and a more direct one (Anna Cerreto), have a long friendship, and a shared problem. This pair of Nonnini (also the show’s creators) are getting older, and “sauce day” is a lot of work. But who will take over from them?
To aid a handover, the Nonnini have joined forces to assemble all their grandchildren (the audience) for a hands-on education in passata making, held in dramatic Nonna’s Carlton garage, which looks a lot like a kitchen.
The show is an overdue return for these memorable characters. Our last visit with Dariol’s “Nonna” and Cerreto’s “Nonna Due” in La Nonna featured dance routines, commentary on being Italian and queer in Australia, and for a lucky few, some food morsels. Our return visit with the Nonnas has kept some of these ingredients but changed the recipe.
These Nonnas can be quite spirited, and a shortage of reasonably priced tomatoes on the morning of sauce day brought out their wild sides, to humorous effect. The pair had good quips at the younger generation and the “Australiane” in-laws in attendance, and even sly asides about all the value of the ritual in modern times.
When dramatic Nonna feels that their demonstration isn’t going well, it’s time to seek help from wherever you can get it. A local saint from home and “protector of the queers” (apropos of nothing, but this is a Midsumma show…) seems like the right source of help, but accessing this relies on aspects of culture that precede Catholicism …
The resulting appearance of a glamourous new character (Savanna Kruger, but no spoilers) certainty changes the taste and texture of the work. How the following didactic shift benefits the Nonnas is not so clear. However, an interlude of traditional dance brought a heightened energy, and a new layer to an old friendship.
All the same, helpers younger than the Nonnas were rounded up from somewhere (so … maybe we weren’t really needed after all?), and they assisted interested “grandchildren” to participate in three stages of sauce making outside the theatre.
A taste of spaghetti with a similar homemade sauce (very tasty, just a little sweetness) was on offer for all, making this something like the promised “irresistible feast of musica, dance and food for the whole famiglia” – all in the heart of Melbourne’s “Little Italy”.
La Nonna’s Saucy Sauce Day
La Mama HQ, 205 Faraday Street, Carlton
Performance: Thursday 8 February 2024
Season continues to 11 February 2024
Bookings: www.lamama.com.au (sold out – join the waitlist!)
For more information, visit: www.midsumma.org.au for details.
Image: La Nonna’s Saucy Sauce Day – photo by Darren Gill
Review: Jason Whyte