A Riotous Italian‑American Feast in “Blood Type: Ragu”

Lead Article, Reviews

By Alex Miller
 
We are greeted by a black wall with pictures of daisies on it. Rosemary Clooney’s “Mambo Italiano” plays, and I and my fellow audience members hum along. A voiceover introduces our star, in Italian. Immediately, Frank Ingrasciotta, a past winner of awards for Best Comedian and Best Comedic Script at United Solo, endears himself to us. He’s magic. He wears a red, orange, and pink striped shirt and khakis. One cannot help but draw comparisons to Robert De Niro and Hank Azaria, especially when Mr. Ingrasciotta smirks or tilts his head back, in what I presume is a flawless imitation of one of his family members.
 
Mr. Ingrasciotta produces an 8×10 framed black‑and‑white photo of his mother, elder brother and sister. He remarks that because his brother, sister, and mother all had a hand on each other, and due to his solitary position in the front, “all I could grab onto was my dick.” The ribald joke foreshadows his tales of sexual awkwardness.
 
For Mr. Ingrasciotta, a first‑generation Sicilian‑American from Brooklyn, “food preparation was the umbilical cord of my past.” He becomes his mother, and while speaking 90% Italian and 10% English, recites a list of feasts of meat and sauce and flour. Being monolingual, I initially found this a bit difficult to consume, but eventually I became caught up in the romantic language and understood the essence of the scene. Mr. Ingrasciotta’s storytelling abilities are otherworldly. His frenetic energy is spellbinding. His mannerisms unparalleled. When he portrays another person, he really becomes them, as if each persona is a past life he had once lived.
 
The young Frank’s mother, a homemaker, and father, who works in construction, are strong Sicilians with personalities as grand as their love of food. His brother, a schemer from an early age, crafts get‑rich‑quick schemes that never seem to pan out. In one uproariously humorous scene, his brother’s attempt to get rich from a spray for women’s garments backfires at a family dinner. A coughing fit ensues and Frank’s father, who immediately knows the culprit, lunges at his brother in a fit of understandably righteous anger for ruining their dinner.
 
An example of his father’s questionable parenting techniques is when he slaps Frank after Frank lies to him. An example of his mother’s is when she warns him, “If you marry an American woman, you’ll be eating canned spaghetti the rest of your life!” Frank’s parents eventually divorce, and when his father dies, the father’s girlfriend considers keeping his savings instead of paying for a funeral. Frank’s brother tells him that he’ll get “his people to break her legs.” To which Frank replies, “What people? Phil, we don’t have people! This isn’t ‘The Godfather’!” All of his neighbors‑a collage of colorful characters to whom his mother has given not‑so‑loving nicknames like “The Raging Spinster” and “The Jew”‑are just as memorable as any family member in Mr. Ingrasciotta’s bag of never‑ending characters. They all, in their own ways, help Frank grow into a man.
 
In one particularly touching and sad scene, when Frank is in his early 20s, he travels all the way to the Chicken Ranch (the only legal brothel in America) in Nevada to lose his virginity. He makes up a fake name, selects a “working girl,” and then doesn’t know what to do with himself. But she tells him, “Awww, honey…you just need to relax. How about a massage?” Eventually he releases his inhibition and gives in to pleasure.
 
I must say that Mr. Ingrasciotta is a master of his craft, and he just can’t help but be brilliant. Allusions to food and menus are everywhere throughout the play. Whether he is describing his father’s fingers that are as big as meatballs, or the sex workers paraded in front of him at the Chicken Ranch like dishes on a menu, his performance is most vibrant when he brings us back to food, the lifeblood of his family, the gift that never stops feeding us. And that’s what his performance feels like: good food. I left this play fulfilled. It was a meal with all the right seasonings, the care and love afforded to a recipe developed by ancestors, and passed down through the generations. This is a multi‑course feast I promise you’ll love. Bring your hunger, too. Mr. Ingrasciotta has got you covered.

 
Blood Type: Ragu
Written and Performed by Frank Ingrasciotta
Directed by Ted Sod
Sept. 21, 2019 at 2pm
Photo credit: courtesy of the production
2019 United Solo Theatre Festival
Theatre Row
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
 
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ALEX MILLER, a Chicago native, has been a professional writer and editor for 6 years. He joined the Navy in 2004, and served for four years in such places as Haiti, Iraq, and Somalia. He has a degree in Public Engagement from The New School, and has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Forbes, The New York Daily News, and QZ, among others. He lives in Harlem.
 

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