Italian Funerals & Other Festive Occasions

Written on July 31st, 2011

Italian Funerals & Other Festive Occasions

Italian Funerals 2

By John Miranda, developed by Scott Reiniger
Directed by Adam Furfaro
Performed by Elisa Atristain, Anne Louise Bannon, Trek Buccino, Angelo Celeste, Jill Diane Filion, Michelle Fisk, Nada Humsi, Tim Koetting, W. Joseph Matheson, Gerry Mendicino, Alan K. Sapp, Kathleen Sheehy.
Playhouse II, Grand Bend
July 27 to August 6, 2011
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

Death, Dementia and Dysfunction

The problem may be in the billing. Italian Funerals & Other Festive Occasions is promoted as “an uplifting comedy of operatic proportions”. But for me, the story wasn’t funny enough, nor very inspirational. While I’m sure others might appreciate it, I found it a little too dark.

The tale of the extended Italian family, spanning the 1930s through the 1980s, is really a tragedy. First the elderly grandmother, who apparently has witchcraft abilities, dies. Time moves on and the grandmother of the next generation succumbs to dementia. In the meantime, the happy aunt and uncle are savagely murdered by the Mafia, the beautiful, young drug-addicted daughter commits suicide, and the brother and sister struggle with their guilt-riddled relationship. Sounds like a soap opera, not a comedy, right?

There are certainly several amusing moments. And the play is well cast with superior actors. But the content hits too close to home. Most of the opening night audience at the new Playhouse II in Grand Bend was in the 50 plus age range. Many of us have been or are going through the pain of moving parents into end-of-life facilities, or dealing the devastation of Alzheimer’s. The rest of the audience was in the 75 plus age category where the topic is just too real to be funny. Had I been prepared for a thought-provoking examination of death, dementia and a dysfunctional family, I could have fully appreciated it.

W. Joseph Matheson plays John (Giovanni) who narrates the tale of his Italian immigrant family. He is perfect in the role, tugging at our heartstrings, giving us a very real interpretation. His skills are matched by Trek Buccino who plays the same character at an early age. Trek is an amazing young actor: this grade three student already has an impressive list of credits. He provides the show’s funny lines and, as young Johnny, is the darling of the family.


Kathleen Sheehy is excellent as Mama. She drifts in and out of her dementia, making the scenes where she is lost in the past very realistic without being too pathetic or ridiculous.

Michelle Fisk is excellent as John’s sister Brigida, showing the stress a daughter feels as caregiver for an elderly mother suffering from dementia. Anyone who’s been through it can identify with her frustration.

Gerry Mendicino and Anne Louise Bannon are Uncle Dom and Aunt Mary, both wonderful in their depictions of this fun-loving couple. This excellent cast is completed with Elisa Atristain as the troubled Andrea, Angelo Celeste as the father who tries to stay on the straight and narrow, Jill Diane Filion as the opera-singing Rosalie, Nada Humsi as the scary Nona, Tim Koetting as the mob member, and Alan. K. Sapp as the corrupt policeman – all of them ideal in their roles.

If you come from an Italian heritage with an extended Italian family, if you can understand Italian, and if you like Italian opera, you will enjoy this show. It is certainly well done and with a strong cast.


But, this is the second time this summer that Huron Country Playhouse has departed from its old music and laughter tag line. Blood Brothers came to a tragic conclusion, but provided many laughs along the way, and gave us some wonderful songs. Sadly, Italian Funerals just left me feeling remorseful and depressed. It is food for thought, but it seems like someone changed the menu without letting me know.

Italian Funerals and Other Festive Occasions continues with eight shows a week until July 23 at Playhouse II Grand Bend. Tickets are available at Drayton Entertainment at 1-888-449-4463, or check

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