Albert Innaurato 1948–
American playwright, screenwriter, and director.
Innaurato's works blend naturalism and surrealism and center on the need of all individuals, no matter how unusual or eccentric, to be loved and understood. Many of his characters are grotesques, losers, and misfits, and his situations often border on farce. But Innaurato places serious themes at the core of his plays, despite the madness at their peripheries. He believes contemporary society judges people on the basis of appearance and sexuality, and forces them into competitive situations they are unable to handle. Innaurato feels, however, that people have an intrinsic strength and dignity that enables them to transcend background and environment. He explores the effects of society on emotional life by examining such subjects as sexual dilemmas, prejudice, the loss of the American heroic impulse, and the search for love. Because of his success in depicting these concerns, he is considered one of the most promising talents of the American theater.
Innaurato has said that all of his characters are reflections of himself. Raised in South Philadelphia, the setting of many of his plays, Innaurato was considered a backward child. Because of this experience, he became interested in the problems of those rejected by society. At the age of eight, he began composing opera librettos; several critics have noted the structural similarities between his plays and the opera. Innaurato began his career as a playwright while a teenager. His first major work, the black comedy The Transfiguration of Benno Blimpie, is based on recollections of parochial school brutality and on the Catholic fixation with suffering; Innaurato saw the play, fully formed, in a nightmare. Benno, a grossly overweight adolescent who literally eats himself to death, is Innaurato's Christlike symbol of the innocent victim of society. Innaurato was praised for his imaginative conception and for the excellence of the play's language; he has since been recognized as a leader in the new emphasis on language in the theater. His next play, Gemini, is a humorous look at sexual identity: Francis, a Harvard student, is unsure whether he is hetero- or homosexual. The appeal of Innaurato's principle and secondary characters, and the sensitivity with which he approaches the issue, won accolades from critics and audiences; however, some homosexual critics found the play inaccurate and offensive. Gemini moved from its initial off-off-Broadway location to off-Broadway to Broadway, where it has become a long-running classic.
None of Innaurato's subsequent plays have equalled the popularity of his earlier works. Though he is not considered an unqualified success, Innaurato is usually perceived as a highly original playwright with a vivid moral vision. Young people appreciate his representations of their doubts and concerns and his satiric stabs at contemporary society.
Visions of [Eugene] Ionesco, and especially of [Franz] Kafka, go through our minds as we watch this pitch-black comedy ["The Transfiguration of Benno Blimpie"]. In a sense, "Benno" is Mr. Innaurato's "Metamorphosis"—man into bug; everyone is trying to squash Benno.
He is the butt of all insults. He tells—and is—the story. But what the play is really about is the decay of the American family. In comparison, Edward Albee's "The American Dream" and Bruce Jay Friedman's "A Mother's Kisses" seem almost wistful. "Benno" is a nightmare, dreamed by Lenny Bruce….
[Benno] is treated as an object, a slave, forced to observe the defilement of civilization. He is in torment, teetering out of existence. He will explode. Life can not contain him.
Beneath the fat, he is a saintly spirit. The only real human on stage, he is treated inhumanely. The playwright is serious about the "transfiguration." What if Christ were fat and ugly?
Not everyone should see this play. Many will be offended, even insulted, but it has a dramatic and a comic power…. At times, Mr. Innaurato's humor is itself a blunt instrument, but this is not a play one will easily forget.
Mel Gussow, "Stage: 2 Perplexed Men," in The New York Times (© 1976 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), May 8, 1976, p. 15.∗
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[Gemini is a] witty and exuberant new play…. It is a world of opposites, a melting pot of differing sensibilities energized by a series of perpetual inversions and transformations.
Appropriately enough, the play is titled after the third sign of the Zodiac, and significantly, in keeping with the twin symbolism of that sign, continually seizes on the nature of dualistic phenomena evidenced in human behavior. Gemini is built on a well-defined pattern that synthesizes opposing polarities. Homosexual and heterosexual longings are counterpoised with one another, while the slim and beautiful is contrasted with the overweight and grotesque. On a more important level, and one that is sensitively handled, there are the opposing forces of life and death, paradiso and inferno, the generational conflict, and the morphological changes in every human experience….
Innaurato groups [his] strikingly eloquent characters in a variety of situations, hilarious in the tradition of many of the old situational comedies one finds on TV reruns. There are moments, luckily very brief, when the playwright refuses to let go of a joke and uses it past its comic purpose, but the willful use of lines and situations repeated twice throughout the play is a structurally relevant device that underscores the twin element of the Zodiac sign….
An exhilarating evening in the theater, Gemini is intelligent,...
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Albert Innaurato may have too much talent for his own good.
Much as a playwright may try to resist or ignore it, his or her bones, like an arthritic's, are affected by weather: box-office weather. When an audience is laughing and applauding and leaving the theatre with suffused faces, it is tough to doubt that artistically as well as popularly the hit is palpable. Conversely, a less effervescent audience can't help but seem to imply a less excellent play….
More than most, playwrights love to be loved, and being loved makes them assume they're doing right.
Innaurato has done very much right in Gemini. He has created a credible milieu—a South Philly tenement—and peopled it with brutal caricatures who evolve into brittle characters. With fine-tuned comic instincts, [he] brakes the farce at the brink of excess and dispels heartbreak with pratfalls. I laughed and laughed. And then began looking for the heart of the comedy, the issue….
Sexual ambiguity is adolescent trauma. Drama begins when a person loves for reasons other than what does or doesn't dangle between another's legs. Francis craves Randy and shirks his sister, exclusively because of gender.
Though Innaurato tries to tie Francis's predicament to the human condition by stressing the importance of being who you are and the strangeness, when you come to think of it, of all love matches, he cannot...
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Mr. Innaurato … is very young (28), and some of the problems with Gemini stem from a young man's tendency toward untidiness. His play is a romance of an attractively old-fashioned sort, with an overlay of sexual ambivalence that may or may not bring it up to date. His ending, as I saw it, was a copout….
What is brilliant about the work—and it is quite astounding—is the author's immaculate control over the farcical setting into which his romance has been inserted. It all takes place in a two-family backyard in South Philadelphia, where domestic hell is obviously a way of life. If you think of old-time farce, in which climactic situations rise merely from people talking louder, your admiration then must grow for Mr. Innaurato's ability to orchestrate magnificent human tangles without any of this sacrifice of line and clarity. The man can write; his play … is clearly aimed at a far horizon.
Alan Rich, "Dramaturgy and Drama Turgid," in New York Magazine (copyright © 1977 by News Group Publications, Inc.; reprinted with the permission of New York Magazine), Vol. 10, No. 1, January 3, 1977, p. 95.∗
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[Comparing "Gemini" with opera] has a certain validity. The emotions, even occasionally the voice, are huge. At one point, a character expresses her distaste for opera: "All that screaming. It's not like real life." Actually it is like life in "Gemini." Mr. Innaurato has a tendency toward overstatement, but to reprimand him for that is almost like scolding Kafka for writing about cockroaches. It comes with the territory….
[The] play is a spiraling comedy—a cascade of human frailties, fealties and pretenses. There are mock fainting spells and threatened suicides—the many things that people do to gain attention—and there is uproarious laughter.
Mr. Innaurato … is already a master at surprising us with jarring juxtapositions and seeming contradictions (a violent argument interrupted by the sudden singing of "Happy Birthday") and at staging comic tableaux….
"Gemini" is filled with … infectious moments. It springs with humor—and in the strangest places. Mr. Innaurato is a natural writer, who has a feeling for the precise word that makes a line both spontaneous and genuinely amusing. For example, an absurdly fat boy pleads, "If I promised to lose weight and get less weird, can't we be friends?" Scanning that sentence, we realize that the word "less" is what makes it so funny….
"Gemini" is not as powerful as Mr. Innaurato's "The Transfiguration of Benno...
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The two plays that are being produced together under the collective title of Monsters have a common theme: the child as freak. But the difference between Albert Innaurato's The Transfiguration of Benno Blimpie and William Dews's Side Show is the difference between a real playwright's use of this theme and a wordsmith's clever juggling with it.
Benno Blimpie is a naturalistic family play transposed into the realm of the grotesque, like one of those Jack Levine or Ivan Albright paintings that, walked by casually in a museum, appears to be an innocent urban landscape; only on closer inspection does one see the bleakness of the landscape, the rotting flesh of the figures: The freak emerges naturally from a world that, looked at in a certain light, suddenly seems freakish itself….
Benno Blimpie, though the picture it paints is of total squalor, deals with that squalor honestly….
It is Innaurato's literary sensibility that rescues Benno's story from banal naturalism or Hubert Selbyish clinicality—a matter of stylistic heightening. The cheap squabbling of the parents and the sordid flirtations of the grandfather are turned, by a writer's combination of the overheard and the unexpected, into moments that carry compassion and contempt, pained objectivity and bitter comedy. The naturalistic elements are all in place, but beneath them is heard the violent scream of the...
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T. E. Kalem
The play of middling merit fills an evening; the play of lasting merit fills a void. Subtly, or drastically, high drama alters our perception of existence. In this decade, up to now, the most promising young dramatists all seem to fall within the confines of middling merit. What knits some recent playwrights together more excitingly than their works is a sense that they are stage animals prowling their natural and necessary habitat. One such prowling indigene is Albert Innaurato….
In his full-length off-Broadway entry, Gemini, he seems most at ease behind the mask of comedy…. [It] is a zinging display of comic fireworks, most of which explode underfoot….
Gemini is the kind of play the early William Saroyan might have enjoyed or, for that matter, written.
To see Albert Innaurato's sensibility operating from a totally different angle of vision, one needs to attend his one-acter The Transfiguration of Benno Blimpie…. In contrast to Gemini, Blimpie is as joyous as a bleeding welt. It is a lacerating look at adolescence….
[Benno Blimpie] is no freak in spirit. In his desperate need for love, his touching vulnerability, and his wistful desire for the approval of other children, he is linked to every human being who ever has been or ever will be born.
T. E. Kalem, "Stage Animal on the Prowl," in Time...
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It makes me just a bit nervous to see new playwrights hailed quite as lavishly as Albert Innaurato…. Even in the current American dramatic desert, it seems advisable to be somewhat careful in meting out excessive praise to talent that is still relatively untried….
That said, there is no denying, and I have no desire to deny, that the 28-year-old Innaurato seems an exceptionally promising dramatist on the basis of two plays that recently opened off-Broadway ["Gemini" and "The Transfiguration of Benno Blimpie"]. He has an extraordinary ear for dialogue, an ability to create believable characters and a sympathy for those who seldom figure other than peripherally on our stages…. (p. 363)
Catharine Hughes, "New American Playwrights," in America (© America Press, 1977; all rights reserved), Vol. 136, No. 15, April 16, 1977, pp. 363-64.∗
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[We're witnessing,] especially in the theatre, a caricatured homosexuality, based on defensive pride and sneering hostility.
We have no word that stands in the same relation to homosexuality as "macho" stands to heterosexuality—or rather we have plenty of such words, but they're all so repellent I'd rather invent a neutral one: Let's call this attitude "gayist."…
[Innaurato] seems to me to best exemplify the new gayism….
At first glance, his work seems pre-rather than post-camp—that is, Gemini in particular is conventionally naturalistic, with the gay "problem" dealt with on a straightforward plot level….
What makes it seem pre-camp is the treatment of homosexuality as a subject rather than an attitude, as naturalistic "reality" rather than stylish posturing. But what actually makes it post-camp is that it takes the attitudes and posturing of camp and integrates them into a conventional theatrical structure. If this play had been written before camp, it probably would have been a propagandistic appeal for "tolerance"—"gays are people too." Instead, it assumes that gay is not merely okay, it's better than straight—an extension of camp's attitude that straight is not merely intolerant but often ridiculous.
Gemini is structured largely in pejorative polarities—not only gay and straight, but young and old, son and father, thin and fat,...
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["Earth Worms"] is a black comic version of a rapacious society consuming its young….
"Earth Worms," Mr. Innaurato's most ambitious effort, is the theatrical equivalent of a grand opera—and perhaps it would benefit from a score by a contemporary Puccini. The characters are larger than life, and the play is bigger than the stage at Playwrights Horizon….
[The] play is a nightmare of grotesqueries….
One of the prolems with this play is that too much attention is paid to the exotic background and not enough to the principal characters, an odd triangle composed of a young man in doubt about his sexual identity, his hillbilly bride [Mary] and a 70-year-old homosexual [Bernard] who strikes up a Pygmalion-Galatea relationship with the young wife.
The last two—opposites allied in lovelessness—are, by far, the most interesting people on stage. They are original creations, particularly the aged homosexual….
[Mary] is an innocent with a forked tongue, a nervy country girl who easily rises to anger. Mr. Innaurato never seems to create placid characters; his people are the opposite of meek.
The pivot of the play is the young man …, torn between his wife and the transvestite. As written …, the character seems too indecisive and mercurial. He moves, but does not build to his climactic, guilt-ridden confession.
The flaws of the...
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Earth Worms is an important play. Set, like Gemini and Benno Blimpie, in Innaurato's own South Philadelphia Italian ghetto, it tells a disturbing story about a bride brought in from "outside" and abandoned by a weak husband who cannot outgrow his background. The story is surrounded by ritual, a venomous ballet about narrowminded parochial schools. The play is … imperfect, but so much power comes through that its eventual stature is easy to predict….
Alan Rich, "Sturm und Durang," in New York Magazine (copyright © 1977 by News Group Publications, Inc.; reprinted with the permission of New York Magazine), Vol. 10, No. 23, June 6, 1977, pp. 66-7.∗
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[Earth Worms] is better thought of as a work-in-progress than as a fully realized creation. Set in what is now the familiar Innaurato stamping ground—the dingy row houses of South Philadelphia—it pulls a group of familiarly unhappy Innaurato people into fantastic shapes, like some horror-comic version of Gemini in which the people have melted down into hideous, viscous blobs that, one is shocked to find, have human feelings even so.
The relatively stable family patterns of Gemini and even Benno Blimpie, like the characters themselves, are here stretched into weirdness. The time is the Korean War. A soldier from South Philly, on duty in Virginia, meets and marries the daughter of a Baptist minister, and brings her home with him. But home is a madness: … his aunt [who raised him] is blind, her only pleasure crawling on the floor to kill roaches. The house has been taken over by a retired professor, an unbalanced secret transvestite….
The wife, intelligent but uneducated, is annexed by the draggy professor, and what follows is what customarily follows in Innaurato: screams, fights, violence, and lonely inner pain—dirt level opera, in which the higher aspirations crawl like everyone and everything else, but still sing out ferociously.
Sometimes Innaurato's vision seems almost too narrow and gloomy; sometimes the will to degrade life appears to take over the pen, so...
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Shakespeare may have said that all the world was a stage—not one of his better lines, in fact—but it seems a mistake for Albert Innaurato to go on from there to say that all the world is a graduate school of drama.
It is the central metaphor for "Ulysses in Traction"…. It also allows Mr. Innaurato, when he is not advancing the dramatic action, to get a lot of things off his chest about drama schools.
Some of these things are interesting and some are amusing, but the play is a mess. Mr. Innaurato has his assortment of theater students and teachers trapped in a rehearsal hall during a veritable Armageddon of a race riot….
This entrapment under pressure—a sort of "Lifeboat" situation—allows the characters to conduct a rough and drastic session of self-revelation; group therapy by clawing striptease. Mr. Innaurato is a promising new playwright—his "Transfiguration of Benno Blimpie" was extraordinary—but here he is using an old melodramatic device and using it badly.
It begins nicely enough with a funny parody of a Vietnam War play being rehearsed at a drama school in Detroit. The soldier protagonist alternately throws himself about as if under fire, and engages in strenuous flashbacks with his hysterical parents, and his mad and homosexual commanding officer.
The parody is not merely of the play, although David Rabe and his army trilogy is clearly a...
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The characters [in "Ulysses in Traction"] scuffle and fight and reminisce and make advances—homo- and heterosexual—and generally allow Mr. Innaurato to get quite a lot off his chest on any number of matters. Needless to say of [this author], most of what is on his chest is original and scathing and humorous. Yet in the midst of the fun (much of it intramural theatre about theatre) we are never allowed to forget the unhappiness beneath—everyone except the cleaning woman is a failure and knows it—and the presence of a maimed young man in considerable agony of spirit.
It must be said, regretfully, that "Ulysses in Traction" never jells. Its principal weakness, I think, is that so much of what we learn about the characters has to be told in monologues—a not uncommon defect these days. With the exception of the assistant head's war recollections, which are stagy and unconvincing, the monologues are good, however, and a scalding eruption by the playwright on the curriculum at Yale is pretty wonderful. Mr. Innaurato, a born merciless satirist, moves in and out of the cabaret style with merry results.
Edith Oliver, "Off Broadway: 'Ulysses in Traction'," in The New Yorker (© 1977 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), Vol. 53, No. 44, December 19, 1977, p. 112.
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If allusions a play made, Albert Innaurato's Ulysses in Traction would be the hit of the off-Broadway season, instead of the puny and lifeless affair that it is. Along with the title's bow to Homer and James Joyce, there are references, verbal or visual, to Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream and King Lear, [Anton] Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard, [Luigi] Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author, and Gunter Grass' The Plebeians Rehearse the Uprising. Doubtless there were others, but the tedious catch-the-writer-quoting game should be saved for English professors. The theatergoer deserves to be enlightened, or at least entertained, not quizzed. And by that test Ulysses fails miserably. When not busy climbing onto the backs of the literary giants, it is clubbing its audience with half-baked Big Ideas, vulgar melodrama and whopping clichés.
"Existence is strife" is the gist of Innaurato's message. (p. 28)
[His] hackneyed conception is matched by hackneyed characters. Actually, they are less characters than caricatures, problems or traumas incarnate…. Lest we think Innaurato's assessment of humanity is completely dour, he has given us a foil: Mae, the black cleaning woman. She is gritty and down to earth, as blacks are wont to be when whites create them, and to her belongs the uncertain distinction of describing the road out of the surrounding Sturm and Drang:...
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The credits for "Verna: U.S.O. Girl" … end with the assurance that any resemblance to individuals living or dead is coincidental. It is not likely any such resemblance will be noted….
In an opening scene, the camera sweeps past a war-bonds poster, and we are told it is 1944, but the soldiers' faces lack the lean period flavor of that other generation. None of this would matter if, for more than an instant, the three hapless U.S.O. entertainers could carry us into some tangy private world, but they are stock characters, and that promised glimpse at life in the wings fails to materialize.
Verna Vane … is a stage-struck orphan signed on in last-minute desperation for a U.S.O. jeep tour of the front lines. She is talentless, a fact she doggedly refuses to admit in the ultimately moronic litany that runs through the show….
The major problem … is the one-note play. Until the last half hour or so, we are treated to a string of realistically awful shows, broken occasionally by a love scene or a skillet meal wolfed down in a doorway.
But the most convincing moments are those registered in the faces of the soldiers, so much so that when the jeep carrying the performers careens down a road to avoid a German ambush, leaving behind it the bodies of soldiers shot by the enemy, one fleetingly regrets the death of the play's most interesting characters.
In its last...
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[Albert Innaurato is] the most interesting young playwright to emerge on the New York scene in the past ten years….
No one is safe from his barbed wit [onstage]—no racial or ethnic group (including his own, which is Italian), no physical type, no sexual type. This is particularly true with his new work, Ulysses in Traction….
The whole "sexuality question" was first raised by Gemini…. It centers on the sexual crisis of a young twenty-one-year old Harvard student who can't relate to his admittedly beautiful girlfriend because he thinks he has a crush on her younger brother. The crush remains platonic, though when the boy dares him to consummate the pent-up desire, our hero is more than willing to try, except that the brother chickens out at the moment of truth. Sister and brother then pack their tent and leave, and the hero, realizing that he can't live without them, rushes after them as the curtain falls and his father states, "I think they're going to make it." We still don't know who's going to make it, however; or, more specifically, whom/which the hero is going to make it with—which is the nicest touch of all….
Innaurato's plays are all about outcasts—people with weight problems and pimples (either physical or psychic), people with missing limbs, people who simply don't fit into the "real" world of middle-class America….
Maybe what it boils down to...
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Peter James Ventimiglia
[Gemini provides proof] that contemporary playwrights often combine traditional material and a contemporary approach. In outline, Gemini has its origins in the "rites of passage" drama of which Eugene O'Neill's Ah, Wilderness! is an example. The contemporary twist given to this traditional comic situation, however, is to be found in Innaurato's addition of a complexity to the basic plot. His protagonist cannot be entirely certain whether his sexual preferences are heterosexual or homosexual. (p. 201)
From its inception, comedy has been concerned with the search for identity which often accompanies the rite of passage from youth to maturity. Gemini explores the dramatic consequences of this journey for a young man named Francis Geminiani…. The play takes place on the eve of his twenty-first birthday, the traditional date for decision-making about adult life….
Innaurato's greatest strength is his gift for creating characters who transcend stereotype. For [Francis's father] Fran there is the shame that surrounds his wife's desertion and the nagging fear that his son is not a "regular guy." For Lucille Pompi, there is the shame of her relationship with Fran which is at odds with her loneliness as a widow. For Bunny, there is the external brashness that conceals an inner insecurity. In each of the older characters there is a large measure of acceptance and resignation. (p. 202)...
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I am [not] sure about Albert Innaurato's potential, though most of the critics seem to feel it's unlimited….
Gemini is the better of Innaurato's two works produced in New York this season. That doesn't say much, since the second, Ulysses in Traction, was semidroll trivia, and his teleplay, Verna: USO Girl … was such a mechanical stockpile of romantic clichés that I began to expect a cameo by, or at least a screen credit for, Barbara Cartland. (p. 83)
[Gemini's] artistic merit seems to me dubious….
What follows [Francis's announcement of his sexual dilemma] is a tangled merry-go-round whose outer mechanics Innaurato expertly controls but whose inner life rarely resonates above a guffaw.
Laughs are frequent enough to establish Innaurato as a genuinely gifted comic writer. Grotesquerie is his forte. The best example in Gemini is Herschel, a mountainous teen-ager next door who is "into" Transportation. Herschel is contrived and bizarre—yet believable; more so than most of Innaurato's other grotesques.
The play's exaggerated theatricality, its breathless (and nicely timed) antics and pratfalls, fail to conceal basic flaws in construction. Too often static monologues—awkwardly introduced, insufficiently motivated—are used to fill us in on information Innaurato has been unable to convey in any more integral way. He further...
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Francis [in "Gemini"] is a heterosexual; that is made quite clear from the beginning. What he is going through is a sexual crisis from a heterosexual view. He's having homosexual doubts, which is not unusual among sensitive heterosexuals. In the course of the play, the emphasis is on making relationships or not. In other words, the choice for Francis, in dealing with Judith and Randy, is not whether he is going to fuck one or another, but, how is he going to continue developing relationships despite problems. In both instances Francis' first instinct is to go into his room and put on Maria Callas. And, the choice he makes is not between being straight or gay—which I think is irrelevant … I'm way past the sexual liberation groups. I think there is nothing more boring than "straight or gay." The emphasis in "Gemini" is not on making children, or, anal intercourse … it is really on having a relationship. At the end he calls them back to make an attempt. That's all the play is saying about him. It's not anti or pro gay, or anti or pro hetero…. That stuff is irrelevant to the play … yes, and to the writer if you want to know. It has simply been used as an excuse for nonsense by people…. (p. 8)
All my plays deal with outcasts who try to succeed in a society that ostracizes them very readily and very easily. I think we live in a society almost totally geared to the cosmetic. Everything is appearance. A constant emphasis on...
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Albert Innaurato is too young to be cannibalizing himself, even if eating and overeating are leitmotifs in his dramaturgy. In Passione, he is at it again….
The seven characters passionately love, hate, or love and hate one another. The play is taken up with bouts of lovemaking, fisticuffs, and eating of every sort, from the most voracious to the barely nibbling. There is also conspicuous consumption of wine and coffee. Gutter philosophy and bed-sheet dialectics abound. Haters become lovers and vice versa; friends fall out vehemently and are vehemently reconciled. Everyone blames everyone else for having ruined his life. Or for having saved it…. It is all full of every kind of Italian, or Italo-American, or stage-Italo-American, passion—or passione—and the dialogue is racy, absurd, obscene, and sometimes quite funny.
In calmer moments, there is genuine wistfulness. And there are the obligatory reversals: The failures have their dignity and strength; the successes, their anxieties and grinding needs. Tenderness comes out violent; fights turn into acts of love. It's not exactly unpredictable, as it recapitulates previous Innaurato plays. If it does not nourish your soul, it does tickle your soles and clutch at your heart. Though often inordinately coarse, its vulgarity has a redeeming touch of originality, a twist of eccentricity, that lifts it above the morass. Frequently exasperating,...
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[Albert Innaurato] is one of the most brilliant iconoclasts of the American theater. In "Passione," as in "Gemini" and "The Transfiguration of Benno Blimpie," Mr. Innaurato pays lip service to kitchen-sink realism, but, for him, reality is merely an elastic means to a cockeyed end. This man is an artist, not a documentarian. He is driven—compulsively, breathlessly—to remake a familiar, even clichéd world into a new and often hilarious place of his own startling design.
"Passione" … is far from a total success, but its first act is vintage Innaurato. It is there that we find the playwright's feverish sensibility twisting a seemingly commonplace ethnic family into all sorts of bizarre shapes….
When [the] extended family gets to eating and bickering in Act I, the surprises and funny lines come so fast that we quickly accept the psychological reality of the characters, however farfetched or grotesque they might otherwise seem. The playwright tries to get away with everything, and he often succeeds. One moment his antagonists draw knives and guns on each other; a little later they pair off and sway romantically to an old Tommy Dorsey record. Mr. Innaurato also thinks nothing of halting the action entirely for impassioned debates about such tangential subjects as women's liberation, television commercials and coffee percolators. These digressions are so passionately and wittily set forth that at times Mr. Innaurato...
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Let me hope that Albert Innaurato intends his Passione to be farce with some serious overtones rather than a significant statement about life couched in farcical terms. Taken as pure knockabout farce—with one character literally knocked all over the stage—Passione gives modest but fairly consistent delight, the wild swings made up for by riotous haymakers. But when it goes serious, it has serious problems.
The play covers familiar Innaurato territory topographically, emotionally, gastronomically. Once again we are in Italo-American South Philadelphia; once again everything from lovemaking to making coffee is done with brio, bravura, pepperoni, or some other hot Italian ingredient; once again eating and drinking become a physical and metaphysical consummation, with the thinnest of lines between passionate consuming and consuming passions….
Everyone then is slightly defective—missing fingers, excess fat …; or a disappointment—the educated Tom, a clown, the inventive Berto, a failed cabbie; or laboring under a criminal past—Oreste's arson, Renzo's heists. And the southern ladies' superiority is revealed as bravado or funny truculence merely cloaking loneliness. But defects and shortcomings are the entrance tickets into the grand symbiosis of compassion that finally makes the walking wounded walk into the haven of one another's arms.
Unfortunately, the play does not really...
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[Passione] is a jolly, cozy, sentimental, thoroughly Broadway comedy, and not a good one….
There are signs that Innaurato meant the confrontation between Aggie and Berto to become a significant comic confrontation between two contrasting ways of life, but nothing much comes of it. Italian-American life as represented in Passione is such a welter of lusty, gusty, earthy, emotional, pasta-and-vino stereotypes that I'm surprised any Italian-American could have the face to write it. How, I wonder, did Innaurato manage to leave out an organ grinder and a monkey? On the other hand, Aggie and Sarah lack even a clear stereotype to sustain them; there is no consistent sense at all of where they might have come from, of what kind of life might have shaped them.
Passione is noisy and busy; dud jokes abound…. The attempts at tear-jerking are arbitrary and crass, and bringing down the first-act curtain on the sudden collapse of an old man is the cheapest trick in the book. (p. 387)
[The play is a] clumsy piece of hackwork…. (p. 388)
Julius Novick, "Theater: 'Passione'," in The Nation (copyright 1980 The Nation magazine, The Nation Associates, Inc.), Vol. 231, No. 12, October 18, 1980, pp. 387-88.
(The entire section is 193 words.)