By Lucia Frangione. Directed by Sarah Rodgers. A Pacific Theatre production. At Pacific Theatre on Wednesday, May 21. Continues until June 14
Lucia Frangione’s Espresso is a pure, generous gift that reduced me to tears. It’s also one of the best arguments for Christianity I’ve encountered.
First produced by Pacific Theatre 11 years ago, Espresso explores the relationship between Christianity and Eros through three women of the Italian-Canadian Dolores family. The patriarch, Vito, is in intensive care after causing a car crash that crushed his pelvis and lacerated his heart.
Vito’s estranged daughter, Rosa, rushes to his bedside, where she meets her grandmother, Nonna, whom she describes as a wrinkled black olive, and Vito’s second wife, Cinzella, who sweeps in wearing a fox-fur coat: “Something’s always gotta die for something else to live. And this little guy died so I can live looking like a fucking million bucks.”
Then there’s Amante, who shares the storytelling with Rosa. He’s the Holy Spirit. He’s also the embodiment of Eros: his name means “lover”. Amante is the heart of the play. Nonna was forced into marriage at 13 and she’s never known sexual pleasure. Cinzella feels that she has been martyred by the patriarchy—including by the womanizing Vito. And Rosa is driven by shame.
When Amante approaches Nonna, reciting the erotic Song of Solomon from the Bible—“An enclosed garden is my bride, a hidden well, a sealed spring”—Nonna thinks that he is mocking her. But Amante presses on: “The winter is passed; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth, the season of singing has come.” Our culture is so sexually wounded—thanks largely to body-hating versions of Christianity—that most of us will understand Nonna’s thirst for healing. When she finally opens to Amante and dances with him, the relief is like a flood.
Rosa’s struggles are just as moving. As she rejects and berates Amante, damning him and all oppressive men, he kneels in submission, embodying the selfless love that Christians talk about but so seldom practise, especially where sex is concerned.
The play’s flaws are more apparent to me than they were 11 years ago: in the associative text, the tension sometimes slackens. And this production makes a couple of mistakes. The gauzy drapes in Stancil Campbell’s set create evocative spaces, but director Sarah Rodgers lets the drape adjusting get too busy. Robert Salvador, who, along with Frangione, plays all of the characters, makes the grief counsellor into a reductive joke. Overall, though, his work is strong.
And the quibbles barely matter because Espresso’s heart is so pure. Nowhere is that more evident than in Frangione’s performance. Vivid and compassionate in every character, she delivers her story with the sincerity of an offering.