Friday, March 6, 2009

Blood Type: Ragu


By Frank Ingrasciotta. Directed by Ted Sod. The Actors' Playhouse. (CLOSED)

Blood Type: Ragu, Frank Ingrasciotta's autobiographical one-man show, gets a pretty wide range of reviews. Though most critics find Ingrasciotta entertaining as a performer (he is referred to as ingratiating in more than one review), some feel the jokes are not universal enough to appeal to a non-Italian audience. Joshua Higgason receives across-the-board praise for his projections.

Talk Entertainment A-
(Oscar E Moore) With a black and white vinyl and chrome dinette chair as his only prop Frankie transforms himself with a variety of Italian accents and gestures – speaking in Italian at times but always translating to great comic effect. Backing him up are the three amazing video screens that show the various locations of his life both in America and Sicily. They are extremely inventive and add immeasurably to the story of Frankie’s adventures - the joint effort of Scenic Designer John McDermott and Projection Designer Joshua Higgason. Director Ted Sod has done a fine job in keeping everything interesting and well paced going from moments of hilarity to moments of introspection and I imagine he had something to do with the clever design scheme... After a while just when you think it’s ending another episode emerges. Blood Type: Ragu’s sauce begins to thin. With some expert editing this could be a wonderful look into the life of Frank Ingrasciotta’s. As it is, it’s “Molto bene ma troppo lungo.” (“Very good but too long.”)

New York Times B+
(Andy Webster) The most vivid characters in Mr. Ingrasciotta’s gallery are the women, all rendered with strokes so thick that the comedy can border on drag humor, though there are virtually no costume changes. (The men, by contrast, are for the most part gruff and muted.) But the misogyny common in drag is largely absent; Mr. Ingrasciotta’s compassion grows increasingly evident. Eventually he even finds a measure of sympathy for his father, a patriarch whose demands for absolute deference from Mr. Ingrasciotta’s mother cost him his marriage. It is that kind of understanding — and forgiveness — that gives “Blood Type: Ragu” its lasting, rewarding flavor.

Theatermania B-
(Andy Propst) The star's portraits of his mom, dad, and a host of other characters are beautifully rendered and often quite funny; he can change his accent, timbre of voice, and physical bearing within the blink of an eye. Moreover, director Ted Sod has done an exceptional job in ensuring that the many characters that Ingrasciotta plays all remain distinct. However, the piece's jarring bifurcationultimately undermines its ability to work completely as either a satisfying comic reminiscence or a dramatic coming-of-age piece that will speak to all audiences.

New York Post C
(Frank Scheck) One of the highlights of the evening is his marathon recital of a list of Italian culinary specialties, delivered with a near religious fervor... Although he's an ingratiating performer, Ingrasciotta fails to infuse his material with sufficient wit to make it truly universal. Indeed, much of the humor was lost on me. But there's no denying that, for the right audience - the sort that swoons when "Volare" starts playing on the soundtrack - "Blood Type: Ragu" is a perfect match.

The Daily News C-
(Joe Dziemianowicz) Ingrasciotta is a confident and appealing presence, shifting his voice and body language to evoke the people in his life. Some characters come off more vivid than others. I would have preferred hearing a lot more about his wife Teresa and much less about the Nevada whore who took his virginity in the disco-dusted '70s.
That's just me. Director Ted Sod keeps the staging sharp and clean. Projections and simple lighting effects help push the story along for a fast-paced 90 minutes.

Back Stage D+
(Robert Windeler) Although only 85 minutes in length, the show seems longer, in large part because too much of the dialogue is rendered in Sicilian or fractured Sicilian English and must then be translated, causing too much to be said twice. Once a character's speech pattern is established, it would be wiser to let him or her jump right to English and thus speed the proceedings... And some of Ingrasciotta's set pieces seem pan-ethnically generic, such as his mother's penchant for covering the living room furniture in plastic and using that room for special occasions only. We've heard it before, both as a shallow laugh and as a metaphor for a saran-wrapped heart. Apart from Ingrasciotta's keen impersonations, the memorable achievement of this production is the lovely projection designs of Joshua Higgasun. With evocative drawings and the occasional photograph, he evokes the setting for every aspect of the story, from that plastic-covered living room through a TWA flight across the Atlantic to a symbolically touching sunflower field in Sicily. No set is necessary other than one chair.

Talkin' Broadway F
(Matthew Murray) Ingrasciotta doesn't make the leap, as all great monologists must, of subverting his "what's'a matta you?" jokifying into humanity identifiable beyond Mediterranean borders. His noodlings with his family's odd funeral rituals, his descriptions of his mother's warmly derogatory nicknames for their neighbors, and his recollection of his brother threatening the mob to answer a slight despite commanding no "people" to speak of are moments far more of audience pandering than cleverness. Even if much of what Ingrasciotta said actually occurred, his embracing of such overexposed ideas and his dinner-party-entertainer persona never convince you it did. Once he goes down that road, everything else immediately becomes suspect... There's no way to know. Nor can one immediately divine the purpose or great meaning behind Ingrasciotta's self-indulgent description of how he made a pilgrimage to Las Vegas to lose his virginity to a prostitute after being inspired by a performance of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Because of such incongruities, Blood Type: Ragu feels as hastily assembled as half-cooked spaghetti dressed with partially frozen tomato sauce.

Talk Entertainment A- 12; New York Times B+ 11; Theatermania B- 9; New York Post C 8; New York Daily News C- 6; Back Stage D+ 5; Talkin' Broadway F 1; TOTAL: 52/7 = 7.43 (C)

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