Seductive, courageous, and heartbreakingly honest. La Nonna - Performance review

Sell-out crowd-pleaser show La Nonna is an intimate portrayal of a young man's journey to self-discovery benefitted by his close bond with his Italian grandmother, or nonna, and their cross-generational dialogue.

The production, suitably staged in a homely and intimate setting at the recently opened Rattlesnake Saloon in Carlton, forms a part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival and is a refined and elaborated version of the same play performed at La Mama during the 2018 Midsumma Festival.  

In this lively and confessional dialogue-packed 1-hour show, the audience is invited into the home and kitchen of a feisty now 80+ year-old woman with a story to tell. A feast for the eyes and the senses, the play highlights the importance of food as a source of not only nutrition but of stimulation, joy, human connection and togetherness. Performer and director Samuel Dariol, savvy, witty and sassy all at once, here pays tribute to his nonna and in doing so extends his gratitude to elders across the board, in Italy and abroad. Of Irish/Anglo-Italian background, Dariol is steeped in a multicultural tradition yet readily confesses both on and off stage that he feels neither entirely Australian nor Italian. This allows him to be all the more culturally aware yet nationless and gender fluid while he alternatively becomes both observer and active participant; finding commonalities between himself and la nonna that are not always culturally specific. While Dariol certainly appreciates the culinary richness of his grandmother's Italy, he also shares her complex cross-continental experiences and understands her own identity crisis as she seeks to manage a new life in Melbourne and with that faces issues also in the domestic sphere.

Some topics importantly dealt with in this highly current show and tackled head-on despite their inherent complexities could easily become heavy and overbearing: socio-political challenges, racism against W.O.G.S ("Why don't you go back to your own bloody country?!"), shifting identities, and embracing queerness as a way to liberate oneself from the "norm". Nevertheless, Dariol doesn't linger but skilfully balances sobriety with frivolity, darkness with light, always guided by admiration and respect for his nonna and her personality. Thematically and structurally, the play is chronologically divided into chapters according to the Neapolitan days of the week, with one regional dish served up per day. Music plays an important part, with Natalia Imbruglia's Torn, and Woman in Chains (Tears for Fears) perfectly summarising human sentiments in a story where words are sometimes better left unsaid. The play is set against a backdrop akin to 1950s Italy and the stage design incorporates colourful décor and props Italian style. Narratively captivated and seduced, the audience is seated in close proximity to the stage and on one occasion we are happily invited to ourselves try out some Italian delicacies (unconventionally approached by tray-carrying nonnine turned waitresses). With that we become part of a play that extends beyond the stage.  

As we are drawn into the poignant narrative we identify and sympathise with both "nonna" and "nipote", comprehend their personal struggles also with regard to gender identification (Samuel) and share la Nonna's many escapades with her nonnine where they step away from husbands ("bloody dickheads") and celebrate a female togetherness which, more specifically, includes a shared excitement at playing the tombola and a collective "sensorial orgasm" while en route to the fruit'n'veg, cheese, and meat section of the Preston market (their mutual handling of a formidable salami carries overtly erotic undertones that are highly entertaining).

One hour is all it takes but in that hour we lose track of time on countless occasions as we are taken on a journey across spaces, times, and boundaries, one that interconnects generations, people and cultures until we all become one. Declaring that "I am La Nonna", we are ultimately all le nonne (siamo le nonne) as we stand united in cross-gendered sympathy at the end of a show which embeds a final message from Dariol's present yet absent real Italian "nonna" candidly addressing us in voiceover. In the final scene Dariol, the performer, removes his female outfit, one item at a time, carefully undressing in front of us while he declares straight-out that he/she/La Nonna needs a bath. With that he demonstrates the need for all of us to leave behind our clothed exterior, abandon our both conscious and unconscious biases and prejudices, remove the masks and strip down to our bare selves. This will allow us to look at the world with new eyes and celebrate differences while we realise we are all the same at the core.


La Nonna

Dates: September 12-17 (with extra shows added on 26-29 September on popular demand)

Time: 6.45pm (60 min)

Venue: Rattlesnake Saloon, 140 Lygon Street, Carlton, Melbourne


Cast and Crew:

Written and performed by Samuel Dariol

With Anna Cerreto as collaborator, choreographer, and performer, and Rhys Patea as performer of Maori background

Directed by Lana Nguyen

Produced by Adam Grima

Original dramaturgy by Justin Nott and Lana Nguyen