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“Blood Type: Ragu” at Shea’s Smith Theatre

THE BASICS: Writer-Actor Frank Ingrasciotta’s one man coming-of-age play about growing up in a Sicilian family is in the smaller Smith Theatre next door to Shea’s. Total running time is 85 minutes without intermission. It runs through Sunday, October 26th.

THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Using minimal, but effective projections behind him, and only one chair as a prop, Frank Ingrasciotta remembers growing up as the first generation American in a Sicilian family. With a stay at home mom, a father who worked in construction, an older sister and brother, some colorful neighbors and some family back in Sicily, we meet over 20 characters, including Frankie, the narrator.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: Since my older brother, my son, and I are in committed relationships with 2nd generation Italian-American women (the grandchildren of the people who first came over from “the old country”) I was looking forward to this production as a “way in” to understanding these people and their families we love so much. However, I would say that this play wasn’t written to explain things to non-Italians, it was written more for those who could personally relate to the stories on stage.

I went on the third night, a Thursday, and the theater was packed. The audience loved it, laughed loudly, and it was full of “remember whens” for most of the people there. Frank Ingrasciotta is a very dynamic actor, with an expressive face, able to convey, through body language, voice, and most of all facial expression all of the characters of his youth in a way that made it easy to follow.

Most of the shows at the Smith Theatre are one-man or one-woman events. I’m tempted to compare “Blood Type: Ragu” with the series of “Late Night Catechism” shows, except that “Blood Type: Ragu” is less of a series of skits and gags and has a clear story line, more of a dramatic arc, based on the author-actor’s life. I think the play would have been better if he hadn’t stuck with 100% personal memories and had perhaps included stories from others. And, while there were plenty of funny moments, there were some serious recollections, too, especially as the parents got older.

I was particularly impressed with the few but effective back projections on three screens behind the actor. When he’s driving, the screens show what you’d see in the rear-view mirror, and when he’s at the funeral parlor, you see those chairs all lined up. And, yes, the only prop is one chair.

By the way, coming up next at the Smith Theatre, Renee Taylor (Fran Drescher’s overbearing food loving mother on “The Nanny”) stars in her one-woman “My Life on a Diet” which she wrote, November 6 through 16.

Rating: Three Buffalos if you are an Italian American, Two Buffalos if you are not…

Three-Buffalo

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

 

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For 20 years, as program host on Classical 94.5 WNED and continuing on-stage with the Buffalo Chamber Music Society, he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?"

As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take." And, on “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM and Saturday afternoons at 5:55 p.m. on Classical 94.5 WNED) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?"

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he has been an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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