We probably have Shakespeare to thank for cross-dressing farces that have led to the likes of The Calamari Sisters’ Big, Fat, Italian Wedding, which is knocking ’em dead at Auburn’s Merry-Go-Round Playhouse through Sept. 30.
Then again, guys gussied up as gals will never go out of style, with everything from the theatrical evergreen Charley’s Aunt, to the cinema’s Tootsie and TV’s Bosom Buddies, Benny Hill and Dame Edna proving that point. And besides, the burgeoning Calamari Sisters’ cottage industry, which has several spin-offs ready to tour on a moment’s notice, has emerged as a critic-proof franchise. You either roll with the show’s manic merging of high energy and low comedy, or else seek entertainment elsewhere.
Since much of the playbill is an extended gag (Francis Ford Coppola is listed as director), the real spoilers can be found through internet surfing, with co-creators Jay Falzone and Stephen Smith revealed as the respective sisters Delphine and Carmela, who co-host the Brooklyn cable-TV cooking show Mangia Italiano! This installment’s plot concerns the impending nuptials of Delphine and the unsavory Angelo (heard only in offstage conversations), although Delphine still pines for her ex-boyfriend Larry, with photographic evidence suggesting he’s a dead ringer for Arnold Stang. Larry is also a butcher, which triggers an avalanche of double-entendres concerning all aspects of “meat.”
Other subplots feature Delphine’s diet struggle and Carmela’s attempts to locate a possible suitor so she can beat her sis to the altar, which culminates in an audience-participation free-for-all that spoofs The Dating Game. There’s even some actual cooking going on, as the intoxicating whiff of sizzling sausage and peppers permeates the playhouse.
Some one-liners have timeliness on their side, such as, “She sweats like Lindsay Lohan at a drug test,” while some shtick certainly has whiskers (so does the cast): “What does a Jewish wife make for dinner? Reservations.” And there’s a bullet-ridden frantic finale in which even the “Dogs Playing Poker” portrait hanging on a wall comes under fire. Yet Falzone and Smith’s go-for-the-gusto performances send every joke to the back row and beyond during this well-oiled laugh machine (olive oil, perhaps?).
Big, Fat Italian Wedding’s two-hour plus may be too much of a good thing (there’s probably a meat joke in there), yet the ladies’ curtain call promises that even more sister acts are forthcoming, including a springtime production of The Calamari Sisters Clambake at the Auburn Public Theater. One can only imagine the raunchy puns that will come from that title.