The importance of family is theme of one-man play visiting Detroit before opening in New York
Steve Scionti is one of a rare breed.
When the actor/writer gets ticked off about something, he doesn’t simply sit back and bitch and moan about it. No, he springs into action!
A Sicilian-American, Scionti is passionate in his belief that the entertainment media have done a disservice to his people by only focusing on one aspect of his nationality.
“As thrilling as James Gandolfini is, and as brilliant as Lorraine Bracco and Edie Falco are, how many goddamn times can you make scrambled eggs out of the subject matter,” Scionti recently asked.
So Scionti took it upon himself to create “Antipasto!” – a one-man play that celebrates the warm and loving Sicilian-American family that he grew up in as a youngster in Middletown, Connecticut.
“I come from a big family,” Scionti said. “We’re all very close.”
His family was also very musical.
“My grandfather played the trombone, my father played the bass. One uncle played the accordion and another sang. So needless to say, the holidays were one of the highlights of my childhood. If there’s one era of my life I’d give my right arm to go back to, it would be my childhood. That’s how beautiful it was.”
In particular, “Antipasto!” focuses on the special relationship Scionti had with his maternal grandfather, Angelo Morello.
“My grandfather was the one who saw the talent and coordination that I had for such a small kid when I was dancing around at all these Italian festivals and holidays. He was the one who paid for my first dance lessons when I was 13 – which was unheard of, especially for someone from my grandfather’s era.”
Unlike other immigrants who grew up poor and uneducated – and whose ambitions were stifled in order to continue in the family’s historical line of work – Morello encouraged his grandson to follow his dreams.
“I was very fortunate to have a very cosmopolitan grandfather who really loved the arts and supported me all the way till the day he died,” Scionti reflected.
It wasn’t easy for a teenager who studied tap dancing at 13 to survive in a Jesuit high school filled with 900 other hormonal boys.
“I got harassed and called every name imaginable,” he recalled with a slight chuckle.
And there were a few fisticuffs traded, as well.
But Scionti was also a very good baseball player, and when it came time to decide what path his studies should take, the budding thespian remembered an important lesson he learned from his grandfather.
“My grandfather told me how he had a scholarship to the conservatory in Palermo for music, but how the mentality of that time was that if your father was a shoemaker, you’d be a shoemaker and your son would be a shoemaker. So he had a dream that got squashed.
“But he saw the potential in me, and he sat there and said, ‘Normal people look front and straight; Michelangelo built the chapel for people who look up.’ So I gave up a baseball scholarship and went to the Boston Conservatory of Music because of that beautiful man!”
It was in his college acting classes that Scionti first began creating characters based upon his various family members. However, it was his teacher – Tony and Obie Award-winning director Mel Shapiro – who encouraged him to craft a play around his family life.
With fellow student James Shanta who co-authored and directed Scionti’s creation, “Antipasto!” made its debut about six years ago under its original name, “The Gathering” – and later “Life’s A Pizza” – at the Zephyr Theatre in Los Angeles.
A divorce slowed down the show’s development for a few years, however, and only recently has Scionti been pounding the pavement looking to fulfill a life-long ambition.
“My dream was to take it back to New York. I danced on Broadway, so why not come back and act on it, you know?”
As “Antipasto!” makes its trek back east, the heart-warming production has been playing to sold out houses. It recently received two 2003 Drama-Logue Awards (for Best Play and Best Acting), and was chosen for presentation at the prestigious HBO Workspace.
So how did “Antipasto!” find its way to Detroit?
Ah, those family connections!
Roselie Posselius, president of the Detroit Actors Guild, was encouraged by her cousin to come to New York to attend a special audition of “Antipasto!” this past September for potential investors in the show. Her cousin – an attorney who was handling the arrangements between Scionti and his New York Producers – thought the show would be of interest to her.
And it was: Posselius and the DAG are bringing “Antipasto!” to The Mirage in Clinton Township for a brief one-week run beginning Nov. 19.
The play, according to Scionti, takes place between 1971 and 1990 when his grandfather died.
“The opening of the show is me coming back to Middletown from New York sharing the good news of my first Broadway show with my grandfather,” he said. “Then the show breaks the fourth wall – the story actually takes place on the day of his funeral.”
Scionti plays eight characters throughout the show, including his mother, his father, his high school religion teacher, a pizza guy and, of course, his grandfather.
“My mother had a hard time watching it,” Scionti said. “She was very close to her father, but she was really moved that a son of hers would write a story about her father.”
Two different packages are available to theatergoers wishing to experience “Antipasto!” – a sit down gourmet dinner package featuring filet mignon and premium bar in the evening, and two matinee performances that do not include food service.
“I’m ready to go there and blow away Detroit, man,” Scionti said from New York. “I’m really looking forward to going to Detroit and sharing my family’s story that I’m very proud of with the people of Detroit. Hopefully, people will walk away and be affected where they can laugh and cry and really think about where they came from.”
The actor/playwright cautions that the show is just not for Sicilians or Italian-Americans, however; its theme is universal.
“I had four huge Jamaican guys I work out with at the gym in New York City come up to me, bear hug me with tears in their eyes and said, ‘You touched me more than you can imagine.’ That’s the message of my piece.”