Stella, Sonny’s wife, is an outsider from this world of Italian-Americans in which she finds herself.
Melissa Mok portrays Stella.
She grew up in an orphanage in Pennsylvania with one sister. Anxious for a better life, came to New York as a young woman to live on her own during the depths of the Great Depression.
With jobs scarce, she became a dime a dance girl, dancing with men for 10 cents in dance clubs that did that in the 1930s. The family looks down on her because of that and has never fully accepted her as a sister. She gets called an outlaw, a derogatory variation of calling her an in-law, meant to show she will never truly be part of the family.
The family matriarch, momma has been slowed by strokes and cataracts from the days when she led her church rosary society in a wide range of church activities. She’s raised eight children through some of the most difficult times in U.S. economic history and a year before the story begins, she’d lost her husband, poppa, at a time she had hoped they could finally start enjoying their lives together.
April Cowgur portrays Momma
She passes her time listening to Italian language radio all day and thinks of the old country
In real life, the person momma is based on never learned English well enough to speak it with the family, and so only spoke Italian. We have given her voice in English to facilitate the story telling in “New Year’s Eve at Grandma’s House.”
Julianna’s Irish boyfriend, Bill grew up in the exclusive Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn,a world away from the hard-scrabble Italian neighborhood he now finds himself about to visit with Julianna.
Patrick Thornton plays Bill.
His father had been a career Naval officer before starting his civilian career, so Bill came from a professional class family, much different than Julianna’s more working class roots.
As a boy, he even played summer sports with Bobby Kennedy on Cape Cod when they were both children. Rather than fighting in World War II, he took part in the Korean Conflict, making him a different generation than the men in Julianna’s world.
He’s currently studying law, planning to follow in his father’s footsteps, but life may have other plans for him.
Julianna is the youngest of the six Smaldone sisters and two brothers, the family baby who came along long after momma and poppa thought they were done growing their already large family.
Natalie Jacobson plays Julianna
She represents another generation from most of her siblings, having been only a child during the Great Depression and a young teenager during the war years that followed.
Even at her young age, she already is achieving firsts:
- The first in the family to go to what had been an exclusively Irish Catholic grade school in the neighborhood (the others went to public school), she mingles with non-Italians from a young age.
- The first to talk about wanting to work and having a career.
- The first to have a wide circle of non-family friends, something not done by older siblings.
- The first of the sisters to drive a car and own a car
She met Bill while he worked in a bowling alley and is bringing him home to meet the family, and to ask momma a very important question.
Exact ages were never discussed at Grandma’s house, doing so was considered the worst of bad luck. But it always seemed to outsiders that Aunt Del must have been the oldest of the six sisters and two brothers in the large Italian-American family.
Del, unlike all her sisters, never married and as the last unmarried daughter, it became her job to care for her aging parents.
Rinat Urman is Del
This role has left her feeling that she must be the family protector against outside threats, including against the men and women who have taken away her sisters and brothers. Rather than call them in-laws to show they’ve joined the family, Del routinely calls them outlaws, her way of saying they have robbed her of her very precious family.
Del also is godmother to Faye and Sal’s son, a very important role in an Italian-American family. The son would routinely come to her when he felt troubled or upset and it wouldn’t be unusual or unexpected for her to show up to confront his parents about something going on in the kid’s life.
meatballs and gravy — staples of Italian-American cooking
New Year’s Eve marked the end of the Christmas season for Italian-American families in the 1960s. Christmas was a time of constant eating as you visited one relative after another, each of whom put out massive feasts to welcome you to their homes.
New Year’s Eve was perhaps the biggest feast of all because it was not unusual to have several meals over the course of the party, the first before midnight, a second after midnight and a third in the wee hours of the morning. Food was more than sustenance, it was the almost sacred element to bind the family together. No matter how many fights broke out over the course of an evening, everyone came together around the food.
Trays of stuffed shells, typical Italian party dish
Those days seem so long ago now, I sometimes wonder if I imagined them. So few people are left in my family now who remember them. So I have tried to capture that magic again in New Year’s Eve at Grandma’s House. You’ll hear all about Italian dishes that were common during the holiday season.
We wish we could serve you some of those dishes in the theater but of course that’s not possible. But you can try some after the show at Dave’s Italian Kitchen, a long-time Evanston establishment that I personally recruited as a sponsor because I have loved the food there for more than 35 years. Dave, there really is a Dave, continues to make Italian food the way I remember it as a kid growing up in Brooklyn. And he’s added new dishes to keep up with the times as well.
Click here to see his ad on our sponsor page and click through there to see his menu and Website. Dave’s is only a few minutes from the theater in downtown Evanston, well worth a stop after the show or anytime you want real Southern Italian cooking.
And if you’d like to hear more about Italians and the family bond that food brings, check out this video I found on YouTube. This person is not affiliate with the show in any way but he is definitely a kindred spirit:
New Year’s Eve at Grandma’s House will take you back to Dec. 31, 1960. That was the year the United States elected an Irish-Catholic president, the precursor of a decade filled with change and upheaval for the country and the world.
How will we make you feel that you’re in that time and place? Hopefully with our words but also with our staging of Grandma’s House. We are so fortunate to have a sponsor, Swantiques, an Evanston antiques store that offers a wonderful array of mid-century furniture and memorabilia.
Much of the furniture you will see on stage, along with other items in the house, is being supplied by Swantiques for our performances. Chief among those items is momma’s chair, the throne-like seat from which she presides over the Smaldone family.
Also on-stage that night will be items from cast members family homes, items that date back to that era. Included in these will be side cabinets that were in the actual Smaldone home that inspired this play. When you hear poppa spoken of, know that these were pieces of furniture poppa actually made.
How do you buy tickets for our shows April 13? We’re offering several options to make purchasing tickets easy for you.
You can email us directly at lvl1971@yahoo,com, tell us how many tickets you would like for which performance. We’ll email you instructions for mailing payment and, once received, send out your tickets Orders close to performance date will be asked to pick up their tickets at the show.
We also offer the option of using PayPal or credit or debit cards via PayPal. Just go to our BUY TICKETS HERE page and click on the payment button for the show time you’d like to attend. Once you get to the payment window, fill in how many tickets you’d like and click update. They either use your PayPal account or click on the option below that, “Don’t have a PayPal account.” You’ll see there how to use a credit or debit card to pay for your tickets.
Once we receive notice of your order, we will have your tickets waiting at the box office for you.
The Piven Theatre is an intimate performance space with only 73 seats, so order early before we’re sold out.
Cast members in New Year’s Eve at Grandma’s House are responsible for assembling their own costumes — costumes that approximate what party goers in 1960 would have been wearing that night at Grandma’s House.
The styles most closely associated with the 1960s, loud, Hippie-inspired looks, had not happened yet in 1960. Styles that year still harkened back to the 1950s. Men were wearing ties and white shirts along with pleated front pants. Ties had shrunk to approximately two inches wide after narrowing throughout the late 1950s.
Ties you’ll see in our play.
Women’s dresses looked formal by today’s standards but seemed casual at the time compared to some styles that had come before them. The level of casual dress we practice today was unheard of in 1960 America. Even attending a party with family was a dress-up occasion, as you’ll see here looking at the pictures from the actual Smaldone family New Year’s Eve party that inspired the play (see left column here).
So cast members are searching for appropriate attire. Some have even bought patterns and are making party dresses. Men’s ties have already been crafted from ties of today.
Dress styles of the mid- to late-1950s were still being worn in 1960.
It’s all about carrying you back in time to Dec. 31, 1960, to a little Brooklyn, N.Y., brownstone for New Year’s Eve at Grandma’s House.
So who are the Evanston 2nd Act Players? A group of actors brought together by their love of theater and the telling of simple stories that touch everyone’s lives.
The core of the troupe, including teacher/director Ryan Kitley, met in a 2012 acting class. Some went on to workshop New Year’s Eve at Grandma’s House in late 2012 and again in early 2013 to prepare it for the production you will see April 13.
To read bios of the entire cast, plus of our wonderful stage manager Claire Shavzin, click here to go to our cast page. More bios will be appearing there on a regula
John N. Frank
Director Ryan Kitley