Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

The Gavones of Philadelphia
The Adobe Theater
Review by Dean Yannias

Also see Wally's review Electoral Dysfunctions


Art Tedesco, Riley Carson Lewis, Owen Callis, Ed Chavez, Meredith Gray, and Marc Lynch
Photo by Joseph Sorrentino
First of all, it's not "Who are the Gavones?" but "What is a gavone?" It's an alternate pronunciation of the Italian word cafone, which originally simply meant a peasant but became a slang term for a bumpkin, a boor, a glutton, and in general, an embarrassment to oneself or to others. Most families have a couple of gavones. The family in this play sure does.

The Gavones of Philadelphia is a new comedy by Albuquerque transplant Joseph Sorrentino being given its world premiere by the risk-taking Adobe Theater. I think they have a hit on their hands this time. This play deserves to survive.

The setting is the 1970s in South Philly. An Italian-American family has gathered for the funeral of the old man. There's Nicky, the Dean Martin wannabe lounge singer who's reduced to playing VFW halls and has four or five marriages behind him. There's older brother Pauley, a bank security guard with a bad gambling addiction. There's the seemingly happy family of sister Mary and husband Tony and teenage son Joey, but even they've got a secret. Can any of them trust anybody else in this family? Aren't these the very people you have to hide yourself from the most? It turns out that the most dangerous words in this play are "Ehhh, we're family!"

There are other plot points going on at the same time as the funeral: How does the will split up Pa's money? Where's Pauley going to get the money to pay off his bookie Jimmy before the bookie offs him? (Younger audience members might not even know what a bookie is. Do they still exist?) And will 12 pounds of cavatelli be enough to feed all the gavones who are pigging out at the post-funeral luncheon?

Some of this might make the play sound like a downer, but Sorrentino and James Cady, the director, keep the tone light and snappy. Many of the scenes are laugh-out-loud funny. The dialogue is like that of a good television show, and I mean that as a compliment, since some of the best writing nowadays is on TV. The play may remind you of "The Sopranos"; I got hints of Goodfellas and Quentin Tarantino—minus the blood.

Jim Cady, as always, has attracted an excellent cast. Actors want to work with him. In the past few years, Cady has given Albuquerque terrific productions of the plays of Arthur Miller and Eugene O'Neill, and here he shows that he has a knack for directing comedy as well. I look forward to whatever genre he wants to tackle next.

Everyone's accent sounded right to me, not forced or overplayed (credit goes to Jessica Osbourne as dialect coach). Ed Chavez gives another one of his flawless comedic performances as Nicky. His facial expressions and timing are classic. Owen Callis, who has the disadvantage of not looking at all what I expect an Italian to look like, pulls off the role of the hapless Pauley excellently. Marc Lynch as Danny, the bookie's enforcer, also does a great job. Meredith Gray and Art Tedesco are totally convincing as Mary and Tony, and high-schooler Riley Carson Lewis as Joey is way better than he was in his last show at the Adobe.

The set by Linda Wilson and Matthew Van Wettering is perfect, with excellent props by Rebekah Casey (I wonder if she's responsible for the food, too). The ubiquitous Carolyn Hogan does her customary fine job with the costumes.

There is only one plot element that I am left wondering about. What happens with the threats from the other bookie, Sal, to whom Pauley also owes money? Unless I missed something, that thread simply evaporates. Apart from that, it's a tight, well-crafted script and a lot of fun. I don't know who came up with the most inventive curtain call I've ever seen, but whoever you are, salute!

The Gavones of Philadelphia, by Joseph Sorrentino, is being presented in a a world premiere production at the Adobe Theater, 9813 North Fourth Street NW in Albuquerque (a few blocks north of Alameda). Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 2:00. Through September 18, 2016. Info at www.adobetheater.org or 505-898-9222. Tickets $14 to $17.


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