ROMEOVILLE – During one of Chicago theatre and dance critic Lucia Mauro’s sojourns to her beloved Italy, she encountered a man at St. Peter’s Square in Rome. She noticed he was wearing an odd, tattered pair of shoes and struck up a conversation with him.
The young American from Louisiana was on a pilgrimage, taking a trip for his younger brother, who was killed by a roadside bomb while serving in Iraq. He was fulfilling his brother’s dream of traveling Europe.
“He never had the chance,” Mauro said of the ex-Marine’s dream of seeing the world, “so he put on his brother’s favorite shoes and vowed not to take them off until he visited all the sites his brother would have wanted to visit in and around Rome.”
His story stayed with Mauro. An author and screenwriter, Mauro later wrote a screenplay and made a short film based on that encounter.
The film, “In my Brother’s Shoes,” can be seen at a charity screening Sunday at Mongo McMichaels in Romeoville. The restaurant’s owner, former Chicago Bears defensive tackle Steve “Mongo” McMichaels, is hosting the screening.
Mauro said she is known for her roles as an award-winning theatre/dance critic and arts and culture writer for the Chicago Tribune, Chicago magazine and Chicago public radio. She’s also written several nonfiction books on performing arts and Italy’s cultural history and has been a featured guest on such documentaries as “The Chicago Dance Project.”
This short film, and another feature-length film not yet in production, are Mauro’s first forays into writing fiction.
Mauro travels to Italy frequently and has lived and taught in Rome. On the day she met the young man from Louisiana, she was in Rome meeting potential actors and production staff for another film. His story moved her, and Mauro hopes the subsequent film will move others, as well.
When asked to review her own film, as she has reviewed countless plays in the past, Mauro said in an email that “’In My Brother’s Shoes” is a quietly moving snapshot of a Chicago man’s pilgrimage honoring his fallen Marine brother by wearing his combat boots on a trip to Rome.
“Gentle and naturalistic, without letting the stunning vistas eclipse the main character’s profound interior journey, this gracious short film carries the viewer across time, space and our shared humanity,” she added. “It allows one to ponder the memory of a loved one while moving confidently toward the unexpected paths life takes us.”
The film is a tribute to servicemen and women and their loved ones, Mauro said, but it’s also about anyone who wants to honor a loved one while moving on with their life. An act of pure generosity is what Mauro said finally relieves her main character of his burdens.
“We’ve all experienced some kind of hardship, and it’s difficult to let go,” Mauro said. “It’s a universal message.”
Mauro said life’s hardships involve not only losing someone special. They include illness, separations and the loss of friendships or homes.
“It stretches across so many categories,” Mauro said.
Mauro said the film’s lead actor, Danny McCarthy, is a New York City actor with roles in the television series “Blue Blood” and “Boardwalk Empire.” McCarthy has roots in Chicago theatre and is a longtime member of Chicago’s acclaimed “A Red Orchid Theatre.”
Mauro said she’s known him for years and even wrote her screenplay with him in mind for the lead.
“He’s an every man,” Mauro said of McCarthy, “and he’s very sweet and likeable. As I was writing, I was imagining what Danny would be thinking and how he would be performing it.”
The film is not dialogue-heavy, Mauro said, and relies on a solid musical score written for the movie by Italian composer Enzo De Rosa to carry the film’s mood and tenderness. It was filmed on location in Chicago and Rome, Mauro said, to convey the scope of the story.
There are some light-hearted scenes. One takes place in the character’s living room in Chicago. He and his father are watching a reality show and having a “funny improvisational conversation about how ridiculous the show is,” Mauro said.
Mauro plans to travel the country sharing the film with veterans’ groups and helping them raise money for their causes.
“I believe the message is so powerful and inspirational and healing,” Mauro said, “that I felt it needed to be seen by veterans and their family and friends.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Local short film, "In my Brother's Shoes," written and directed by Chicago's Lucia Mauro and starring "Blue Blood" and "Boardwalk Empire" star Danny McCarthy.
WHEN: 6 p.m. Nov. 16
WHERE: Mongo McMichaels, 1101 N. Independence Blvd. Romeoville
WITH: Chicago Bears Super Bowl champion Steve "Mongo" McMichael and the writer/director of the film, along with production crew.
TICKETS: $20. Proceeds benefit U.S. Marine Corps Reserve's Toys for Tots program.
ETC: Movie screening, remarks by McMichael and Mauro, and pizza/wings party.
VISIT: www.inmybrothersshoes.com and www.themongomcmichaels.com or watch the film's trailer at www.youtube.com/watch?v=0g2udUOSSeE