I wasn’t expecting to enjoy “Blood Type: Ragu,” and I was pretty much right.
A one-man, growing up first generation Italian-American, coming of age tale? Well, it just didn’t sound like my particular cup of tea. But I was willing to give it a chance.
Actor-playwright Frank Ingraciotta has not only penned his theatrical autobiography, but he’s also taken on the Herculean task of portraying more than two dozen different characters – all without benefit of costume changes or props. Not just any old characters, either, but real characters who he has known intimately – his taciturn father, his long-suffering mother, his sister, brother, grandparents, neighbors and more.
Part of the problem may be that Ingraciotta is simply too close to the material, unable to see the big picture or the overall narrative arc. I can’t figure out any other explanation for the fairly large chunk of the show that he devotes to driving across country so he can lose his virginity at that Best Little Whorehouse in Nevada, the Chicken Ranch. Up til then, “Ragu” had been squarely focused on the trials and tribulations of growing up in a Sicilian household in Brooklyn – the tears, the laughter and, of course, the food.
Suddenly, the theater-goer is yanked out of that world and all of the complex, sometimes overbearing relationships that come with it, and thrust into the melodramatic, living cliche of I-got-laid-and-it-changed-my-life. It just comes out of nowhere, and it really goes nowhere. And if there’s an ethnic tie-in somewhere, I simply missed it completely.
The other major problem is that despite the fact that the 90-minute play hangs its hat on the sometimes hilarious, often dysfunctional family relationships of growing up as a baby-boomer in a clearly defined ethnic culture (Italian in general, Sicilian in particular), two members of his family – his brother and sister – barely seem to be there at all. It’s not that they’re not illuminated or fleshed-out dramatically. Rather, it’s as if they’re completely invisible. Cyphers.
Following a tried and true pattern, “Ragu” begins as a comedy – at times little more than a string of Pat Cooper stand-up jokes – and gets more serious as it develops, and Igraciotta served the material better in the latter portion of the show.
Of course, your mileage may vary – Maybe you’ll laugh. Maybe you’ll cry. Maybe you’ll leave the theater with an intense craving for risotto and head straight to Cafe Capriccio…
Matthew Holden’s review at The Free George
Michael Eck’s review at The Times Union
An excerpt from Carol King’s review at The Daily Gazette: “Attempts are made to theatricalize the production. It is, in fact, overburdened with special effects. Cartoon layouts of the house at 1406 Willoughby Ave. where the playwright grew up fill the backdrop of an otherwise nondescript set. An airplane is seen soaring behind him when his mother decides to carry him off to Sicily to escape her hateful marriage. The images of Sicilian houses with laundry hanging from clotheslines are actually pretty, and a field of sunflowers is soothing. The disco ball and hits from the ’70s do tend to break up the boredom.”