Philadelphia is full of small idiosyncratic museums, from the memorials to Thaddeus Kosciuszko and Edgar Allen Poe to the 70s-tastic displays of the Mummer Museum, from the aging scientific displays of the Wagner Free Institute of Science to the one-of-a-kind monuments to freedom at the National Liberty Museum. I discovered another weird little treasure when I attended a performance of ONWARDS & UPWARDS: The Italian American Dream at the History of Italian Immigration Museum on East Passayunk in South Philly.
The short performance piece is designed as a theatrical tour through the small exhibit space, led by playful puppeteer/creator Angelo Aiello. We meet flatulent Italian Spazzolino, a wooden migrant to the New World, step into a barber shop with talking combs, and hear about the struggles of travel from simply constructed dolls.
Although an introduction to the museum and a story of Italian immigration to America, the show draws parallels to current migration around the world. People face the same difficulties and challenges today, and immigrants of former years faced discrimination which their descendants would recognize only from newscasts.
Award-winning local poet Savannah Cooper Ramsey provides ongoing translation of Spazzolino and his friends, and makes a surprise appearance as the Statue of Liberty. Her recitation of famous poem which adorns Lady Liberty’s pedestal modernizes and reframes the lines through measured pauses, without changing the words:
“Give me your tired, your poor/
your huddled masses yearning to breathe/
free the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”
Musician Antonello Di Matteo skillfully accompanies and enhances the drama with accordion, Italian bagpipe, flutes, and clarinet. And we’re served espresso by museum director Marco Circelli at the end of the show!
[History of Italian Immigration Museum, 1834 East Passyunk Avenue] November 16 & 30, December 7 & 14, 2018; eventbrite.com/e/onwards-upwards-the-italian-american-dream-tickets-52269660963
Sketches by Chuck Schultz.