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Gravy (A Passive-Aggressive Italian-American Comedy)

nytheatre.com q&a preview by Dana Tarantino
March 10, 2013

What is your job on this show?
I wrote and directed it..

What is your show about?
Gravy, subtitled “A Passive-Aggressive Italian-American Comedy,” is a comedy that sheds light into the central character’s (“Angela”) life, love family and Italian traditions as she comes to terms with her heritage and confronts these issues as she prepares dinner.

Where were you born? Where were you raised? Where did you go to school?
I was born in Queens. I think I knew at a very early age that I wanted to do theatre. Imagination plus storytelling plus reenactments and retellings always held my interest. I’m a director by trade, but I have acted before. I grew up in an ultra provincial family Italian family. I was second-generation. When it came to college, my family strongly felt that theatre was not a suitable subject to major in, so I told them that I was studying psychology. Of course, this was a lie, and I was a theatre major at Queens College. (Jerry Seinfeld, a fellow student, was a scene partner of mine in a couple of courses there.) But I made sure, at the beginning of the semester, to always buy some psychology textbooks to leave around the house – to supplement the psychology major story. Unbeknownst to my family, I performed in college productions, and sometimes had the lead roles. After the shows, I’d quickly change and remove my makeup, get a ride home, and tell my folks I was at the movies. I guess you could say that this secret lasted four years. Quite a long acting gig. I finally fessed up when I graduated. Let’s just say it wasn’t a Hallmark moment. Undeterred, I continued studying theatre, and directing, all through the Master’s and Ph.D. degrees at NYU. And today I am a theatre director, and have also taught theatre in colleges and universities.

Why do you do theater (as opposed to film, or TV, or something not in the entertainment field)?
I think I chose theatre, as opposed to film and television, because I was attracted to the transience of it. Whatever is occurring onstage becomes part of an audience’s collective memory. It’s the art of the moment and the experience is unrepeatable. Other than the actual script, the particular theatrical event is ephemeral. I find that very exciting. I have to admit, though, there are times when I’d like to reference something to someone else, and there’s no physical documentation to show. On the positive side of that, it leaves one with no alternative but the re-telling of the experience, which can be, in itself, theatrical. There’s a beautiful simplicity in that.

Why did you want to write/direct/produce/act in/work on this show?
I wrote and directed Gravy because, in a sense, the play combined a lot of my life experience. My family was in the restaurant business. Actually, my grandmother was a chef, and, as a child, I spent my summers inadvertently observing food preparation – and all of its intricacies and idiosyncrasies. Every story in Gravy comes from a real place. The incidents that occur in the play didn’t necessarily happen to me, but they were real and I observed them. In the play, “Angela,” the central character comes to terms with both eschewing and embracing her ethnicity. She does this with the background of a cooking canvas, as she deals with the unraveling of secrets she’s kept. I wanted to write and direct a piece that does not deal with the Italian-American stereotype with its Mafia undertones or Jersey Shore depictions. I wrote Gravy with the intention of eventually using it as the pilot episode of a television series, where whatever recipe “Angela” makes is interwoven with that particular episode’s plot. And eventually, we’d get to meet other characters, as her friends, family, and relatives get introduced into the storylines.

Which famous person would you most like to get a fan letter from: Meryl Streep, Lindsay Lohan, Steven Spielberg, Philip Seymour Hoffman?
I’d like to get a fan letter from Bill Gates or Donald Trump or Warren Buffet, saying that they will subsidize the answer to the next question.

If you had ten million dollars that you had to spend on theatrical endeavors, how would you use the money?
If I had ten million dollars to spend on a theatrical endeavor, I would build a performing arts center that served as an umbrella organization to different factions and interests of the theatrical community and its audiences. It would be a complex of three theatres. One theatre would be for new works by American playwrights. Places like New Dramatists could feed right into that kind of venue with its support of new playwrights. One theatre would be dedicated to adaptations and neglected older works. This would be a good place for directors to bring in projects that they may have a particular affinity for or a new perspective to share. And the third theatre would be designated for use by productions that come from educational/professional partnerships. I could see it now – scene shops, costume rooms, rehearsal space, classes, workshops. Where’s the check?