My Big Fat Italian Wedding Murder turns out to be pretty much what you would expect it to be: a lot of goofy, interactive silliness…accompanied by a full meal. The characters are total over-the-top stereotypes, but that’s the point: this is not a show at which to unfurl your PC flag. And the murders (of course there are more than one) are as ridiculous as everything else, giving the actors every opportunity to ham up death scenes with complete impunity, which often results in bizarre moments like the one on opening night when a stabbed character suddenly came back to life because the actor realized that no one could see the knife.
None of this is meant as a criticism: it is the heart and soul of this kind of show. Created by Broadway actor Jimmy Ferraro (who also directs) and David Craven, the essence of this production is not tied to the performers; rather, they are a means to an end, which is the efforts by each table at the faux wedding reception to “solve” the crime. Between set pieces, characters wander the room, chatting with different tables and making themselves available to be “bribed” (fake money is provided) into divulging potentially valuable clues. (But be careful: in our show the bride took our table’s $100 bribe and played it as part of a bit, giving us nothing in return! The actress, Abby DeRosa, did stop by to apologize after the show: “I really had to finish the bit!”)
A show like this one should probably be judged on five major factors. The plot should be interesting and hold together enough for the evening to make at least some semblance of sense. The performances, broad and absurd as they are, should be fun to watch and consistent. The set pieces, which here include loud arguments, secret murders, wedding party introductions, a few fights, belly dancing(?), repeated pronouncements and “prayers” from the young and callow priest (a very funny Andy Phinney), and audience-included dances and games (anyone done the chicken dance recently?) should be both enjoyable and full of clues. There should be plentiful opportunities to discuss matters with fellow “detectives” at your table. And, finally, the food should be both good and appropriate to the setting.
MBFIWM scores quite well on this last one: the pizza, salad, and pasta—though the penne did arrive lukewarm—were all very tasty (not to mention filling!). Other than the bland and unfortunate dessert—something that looked like a fat Auntie Annie’s pretzel cut up and lightly glazed with cinnamon icing—I enjoyed it and could easily accept it as part of an Italian reception. Others at my table felt the same way.
As to the rest:
We open with guests arriving at the reception to discover a white chalk outline on the floor: the groom has been murdered, his body whisked away by family members so that the evening won’t be spoiled for guests. (Yes, the show doesn’t seem to notice or care that the murder, and the other murders, just might put a damper on guest enthusiasm anyway. But grant them this bit of sheer illogic. Not much about this is actually meant to be logical anyway.)
After meeting and interacting with tablemates, we meet members of the wedding party, all of whom would feel right at home in The Sopranos, and each of whom becomes a suspect as the event moves on…at least until they die. (There is a different killer for every performance.) Aside from the bride and the priest, we meet the parents of the bride (Laura and John Blackwell, channeling their wedded bliss into a different kind of love), Dave Perez as best man Johnny, Alene Arnone as the kind of grandmother you envision giving people the “evil eye,” Audrey Napoli as Roxy, the groom’s floozy ex-girlfriend (who was invited, um, why exactly?), and Genese Dadzie as the maid of honor, Tina. Others include George McDonald, Matthew Storino, and Amelia Buell. (Storino plays a bodyguard named Bruno but we won’t talk about him. Seriously, though: for better or worse, there are no Encanto jokes.)
No members of the groom’s family appear; presumably, they are all somewhere hastily making funeral arrangements. Anyway, arguments happen, speeches and threats are made, affairs are revealed as women throw themselves in despair onto the chalk body outline—all the remains of the groom—and murder victims are carted away draped in the Italian flag. You know: exactly the kind of fun you expect at a wedding.
Ferraro has certainly filled the evening with outrageous moments that the very capable cast play with gusto. Those at my table, however, found it difficult to hold conversations amid the hubbub of The Revelers Bar so our ongoing debate about whodunnit was, well, not so ongoing. Actors could be heard, though, largely because they were yelling, so I don’t think we missed much. We did not guess the murderer, though no one did: the evening’s killer, Roxy, flew below everyone’s radar. All in all, it was a fun though inconsistent couple of hours. It’s a difficult task to orchestrate or perform in this kind of affair, and both the cast and the audience appeared to be enjoying themselves. Smaller tables seemed to be more “into” the mystery than larger ones like mine, which is probably to be expected. If you go with the expectation of having some fun, maybe meeting some new people, and enjoying a decent meal, My Big Fat Italian Wedding Murder should easily be your cup of cappuccino.
MBFIWM plays on weekends at The Reveler, 3403 N. Damen, until May 15. Tickets are available from www.buytix.net.