There are few events in life as rife with the heightened emotions of love and loss as weddings and funerals. Add to them the unbridled passions of being Italian and gay, then throw in a rollicking roster of loud but (mostly) lovable stereotypes, and the comedic possibilities increase exponentially in playwright Anthony J. Wilkinson’s MY BIG GAY ITALIAN WEDDING and MY BIG GAY ITALIAN FUNERAL. Parodying the 2002 hit film My Big Fat Greek Wedding through the lens of same-sex marriage, the camp comedies are both funny and relevant, with heartwarming messages about gay rights and wrongs, friends, families, and forgiveness, which underlie the hilarious high-jinks.
Featuring a high-octane cast, vintage music, over-the-top drag extravaganzas, outrageously tacky costumes, and larger-than-life hairdos befitting the characters, Wilkinson (who stars as the protagonist Anthony Pinnunziato in both) takes a no-holds-barred approach to satirizing the clichéd behavior (of toxic ex-lovers who won’t let go) and trite platitudes (as the mourners at his father’s funeral repeatedly say, with undue sincerity, “He looks good”) that are laughably familiar.
Despite some very recent cast changes (the excellent Hugh Hysell as the temperamental event-planner Maurizio LeGrande and Marissa Rosen as Anthony’s little sister Maria) and continually updated references to our popular culture (including side-splitting jabs at Miley Cyrus, Honey Boo Boo, and Chick-fil-A), the entire ensemble works well together, with the actors clearly enjoying their raucous roles and playing them to the hilt. Donna Castellano as the Pinnunziatos’ always agitated mother Angela, Joe Scanio as her accepting husband Joseph, and Debra Toscano as the dynamic Aunt Toniann capture all the lustiness of the working-class Italian family, as do Liz Gerecitano and Meagan Robar (a graduate of Philadelphia’s University of the Arts) as Anthony’s friends, the incessantly-bickering lesbian exes Lucia and Connie.
Among other audience favorites are the charming (and stunning!) Brandon Goins as Anthony’s groom Andrew Polinski; Chad Kessler as Father Rosalia in WEDDING and Rabbi Howie Horowitz in FUNERAL (who delivers the sequel’s most touching monologue); and the extraordinary Erik Ransom (who will appear in Philadelphia later this month in Brat Productions’ Eternal Glamnation and Underground Arts’ Late Nite Cabaret) in three show-stealing drag roles that keep the crowd screaming.
The shows run in repertory (WEDDING on Saturdays at 8 pm, FUNERAL on Sundays at 7) at St. Luke’s Theatre, 308 W. 46th St., New York, so you can see both in one laugh-filled weekend. biggayitalianwedding.com.