My Big Gay Italian Wedding
Everyone is going to have his or her favorite moment in My Big Gay Italian Wedding, the insanely funny and fun confection playing in a church basement on Restaurant Row.
For me, the epiphany of silliness occurred during the Act II wedding when Maria, the chubby sister of the mama’s boy getting married to a hunk, sings Schubert’s "Ava Maria" - and then breaks into a hip-hop version. The mixture of the sacred and profane, the ultra-serious and ultra-silly makes this the perfect play to see on a humid summer night.
I saw Anthony Wilkinson, the author and the Italian half of the wedding couple, starring in anther play he had written a few years ago about a closeted cop who goes undercover to find a crook mingling in Staten Island’s gay scene. That one certainly did not prepare me for MBGIW.
Here, Wilkinson (his mother must be Italian, she has to be) sends up every Italian-American stereotype anyone who’s seen the Godfather movies or The Sopranos will know by heart. But he spoons out the un-p.c. satire so generously, and the cast overacts energetically in their overwritten parts, that it all works wonderfully. You don’t have to be familiar with South Brooklyn to know these people. (It helps.)
Wilkinson’s Anthony Pinnunziato has a mother who is so overbearing that his cell phone ring is "Momma is calling." His father is an overweight lunk. Both are played to perfection by Randi Kaplan and Joe Scanio.
Anthony still lives at home (of course), but he spends a lot of time with his betrothed, Andrew Polinski. Now when I tell you that Andrew is played by Reichen Lehmkuhl, before your eyes roll up in your head, I’m going to give you a Cher bitch slap. (That’s from Moonstruck, the movie to which this play - along with Tony and Tina’s Wedding - owes so much.)
Lehmkuhl is, of course, a reality "star" who you think has way outlived his fame shelf date. Since I had known him mainly for his relationship with Lance Bass and for shamelessly exploiting himself, I wasn’t expecting much. Nothing, really; just a fameball slumming off-Broadway until something better comes along. I was wrong: He’s good! If he’s a bit wooden, well, Andrew is wooden. So when Lehmkuhl does emote, it’s more powerful than the other actors. (The director also has the sense to have him open Scene II in his underwear. Dude’s still smokin’ hot.)
The plot’s intricacies are not repeatable, both because there would be too many spoilers and because they wouldn’t sound funny being written here. Like a Marx Brothers film, a Three Stooges short or a Looney Tunes cartoon, the logic of the plot is all internal. Take it off the stage into the big real world and it makes little sense.
But that’s OK, because Wilkinson, director Theresa Cicala and great work by choreographer J. Austen Eyer make it all hysterically funny. There were so many great lines coming at me, I may have to see it a second time just to take them all in. But I will always remember "The higher the hair, the closer to God," and (about playing slots in Atlantic City), "Papa always said Chinese people were good luck."
The night I saw MBGIW, the audience was pretty evenly divided between gays and Italians. That seems especially fitting in a play that manages to make Brooklyn’s Italian-American neighborhoods as gay friendly as the West Side of Manhattan.
What Wilkinson knows - and what he puts across so beautifully - is that for Italians, family trumps all. Beneath all that hair and behind all those wisecracks, these are warm, loving people. MBGIW wouldn’t work if it were all laughs. But there’s also plenty of heart.
True, it gets a little preachy about gay marriage here and there. Wilkinson’s update (an original version played seven years ago) also misses a few points: No one mentions that gay marriages performed outside of New York State are recognized as legal here; and for some reason, Connecticut, which not only has legalized gay marriage but is only 45 minutes from the city, is never mentioned.
But that’s OK. I was having way too much fun to nitpick. Kudos to Wilkinson & Co. for taking a hot-button issue and making it so much fun.
My Big Gay Italian Wedding is playing at St. Luke’s Theatre, 308 West 46th Street, just to the west of Eighth Avenue at the beginning of Restaurant Row. It has an open-ended run. Go to the show’s website for more information.