Sunday, October 19, 2008

"No Parole": Captivating Comedy from STC

Sacramento Theatre Company’s intimate Pollock Stage (formerly Second Stage) lends itself to offbeat productions that bring audience and performers closer together, making us feel as if we’re part of the action. Artistic Director Peggy Shannon often uses it as a window that lets us peek into the lives of American subcultures, especially those we rarely know much about.

Such seems to be the case with “No Parole,” a story about Latinos who don’t happen to be from Mexico. In fact the tiny and dysfunctional family from Peru is isolated from any compatriots as it struggles ingeniously, and often unlawfully, for survival. It’s really more about family than ethnicity. The subtitle (which doesn’t appear in the playbill) is “Family is a Life Sentence,” from which “you don’t get parole.”

It traces the painful autobiography of its playwright and lone actor, Carlo d’Amore, and his love-hate relationship with his sociopathic mother. Although some commentators claim that the story is partially fiction, d’Amore assures me that every bit of the story is factual.

A remarkable actor, d’Amore plays all the characters, first appearing as his own mother, in a dress with no padding, no wig and no special makeup as he fires machine-gun Spanish at the audience. His graceful feminine gestures make us wonder who this woman is and what happened to Carlo. Suddenly she realizes that we don’t speak Spanish and lapses into accented English. Then, stripping off the dress, D’Amore becomes—himself.

Thus begins his life story. He has a younger brother, Luigi, named after Carlos’ supposed father, an Italian. But later we find that the elder Luigi is not the father of the boys, whose biological father has left their mother. The rapid-fire monolog is hard to follow, but we learn that the mother has a passion for larceny, forcing her to leave the country and travel north until she and Carlos reach the United States.

As a disillusioned adult, and with both Luigis apparently out of the picture, he puts her up in a spare room in his New York slum apartment, enduring her escapades that land her in prison for eight years. (A mesh of bars on Myke Kunkel’s spare set is suggestive.) Desperate to bring in money he acquires a special oven for baking empanadas, which he sells on the street.

Toward the end she suffers a stroke, which D’Amore projects through a crooked mouth and slurred speech, never quite letting him free himself. Yet the grim story is punctuated with humor. He describes, for instance, a massive purse she uses to shoplift as he details the increasingly size of what she puts into it. He also portrays her holding him as a baby on her lap while she delicately extracts a tapeworm from his anus.

Though d’Amore has been a success as an actor, appearing on Broadway as well as in film and on television, “No Parole” seems to be his opening shot as a playwright. It does have some sharp insights and vivid characterization, yet the jumble of Spanish and English makes it hard to follow. It also suffers as undigested autobiography. After all, larcenous mothers can appear in any culture and embarrass their offspring.

The production owes much to director Margarett Perry and her staff for its quick pace as they pick up cues from D’Amore. Photos are by Rudy Meyers.

“No Parole” continues at the Wells Fargo Complex, 1419 H Street, through November 9. Performances are Wednesday at 12:30 and 6:30 p.m.; Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. Buy tickets, $15-$44, at the Wells Fargo Pavilion Box Office, by phone at (916) 443-6722 or 1-888-4-STC-TIX, or online at

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