Elgin Theatre’s ‘Filumena’ is an Italian marriage story that embraces the funny

Show is a hoot and a half

"Filumena" by Elgin Theatre Company in February 2024.

“Filumena: A Marriage Italian Style” by Eduardo De Filippo is being produced by Elgin Theatre Company, with performances at Elgin Art Showcase through Feb. 25. The script was translated from its native Italian by Maria Tucci.

I’m a bit of an authority on Italian weddings. I spent years as the bridegroom in “Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding” – the famed environmental theater comedy in which the audience members are guests at an Italian wedding.

In that case, the show was pure comedy. Our goal was to have everyone leave with a smile on their face and laughter in their hearts – and we had a pretty good track record of success.

“Filumena” straddles the lines between comedy and drama. There are elements that are laugh-out-loud funny, and other situations that are of a more dramatic nature. This creates an interesting dynamic for director Sean Hargadon and his talented cast to conquer. Delightfully, they do it with flying colors.

The story takes place in Naples. Domenico Soriano is a wealthy man who has brought his favorite prostitute, Filumena Marturano, into his home as a servant. For 25 years, she toils under his roof, while he cavorts with other women on the side.

Finally, when she appears to be on her deathbed, Domenico agrees to marry her. He will grant her dying wish, confident she will pass away within hours happily married, and then he will be free to marry his newest conquest, the beautiful Diana.

Only after the marriage is made official by the priest do we discover Filumena was not dying at all. It was a ruse to get Domenico to marry her so she can give his respected name to her three adult illegitimate sons.

Having been taken advantage of, Domenico is furious. That is, until he learns he is the father of one of the young men. That changes the whole dynamic.

De Filippo is a famed Italian playwright, and “Filumena” has been brought to life many times in various incarnations on stage and in film. The most well-known adaptation is a 1964 film starring Sophia Loren.

"Filumena" by Elgin Theatre Company in February 2024.

On stage in Elgin, Ken Kaden stars as Domenico. He is a comedic dynamo. Cut from the same cloth as Jason Alexander, Danny DeVito and Nathan Lane, he is a fireplug who fights to contain the emotion within. This results in just the right degree of over-the-top to do the script maximum justice.

Opposite Kaden, Doreen Dawson is striking as the title character, Filumena Marturano. Dawson instills in her character a strong sense of pride. She has not had a dream life. On her own since she was 17, she has done what was necessary to survive. There is no shame in surviving.

Dawson’s Filumena is authentic and gritty, showing off the actress’ great dramatic chops. When she lets the zany come out to match Kaden’s over-the-top expressions, that’s when the magic happens.

Of all the characters in the topsy-turvy, romantic(ish) comedy, it’s the ones where the player embraces a touch of looniness that stand out the most and gel with the material.

Heidi Swarthout is incredible as Filumena’s confidant Rosalia Solimene. She is bubbly and personable. She connects both to her fellow performers and to the audience. She is not only charming, there is also an underlying sexiness in the style of Italian cinema.

Dee Korby does an excellent job providing very nice costuming that doesn’t break the bank. Swarthout’s colorful outfits are a prime example of how Korby’s eye works well with Hargadon’s directorial vision.

While Swarthout’s Rosalia serves as Filumena’s confidant, Dan Hitzemann’s Alfredo serves a similar purpose for Domenico. Hitzemann has a very expressive face put to great use conveying various levels of “uh oh.”

"Filumena" by Elgin Theatre Company in February 2024.

Hargadon really hit the ball out of the park with his casting of Filumena’s three adult sons. Each son has his own unique look, quite different from his siblings. Yet, with them all standing around the same height and sporting curly hair like their mother, they are believable as three men who share one common parent.

Matt Johson plays the oldest son, Michele. Johnson is the epitome of a character actor. He sports a wild mane of frizzy hair that would have made Andre the Giant proud. This complements a playdough face that seems custom-made for comedy.

Matt Hellyer’s Riccardo is a high-end shirt maker, far more outwardly refined than Michele the plumber. Riccardo likes the ladies, and Hellyer gives him a dapper persona capable of charming any number of attractive women.

I am a sucker for actors who instill a movement style unique to their character. Hellyer’s Riccardo has very specific, very purposeful mannerisms. There is an element of Willem Dafoe to his acting style – and it works well. I found him to be magnificent.

Brandon Frederick plays the youngest of Filumena’s sons, Umberto. A student with aspirations of being a writer, Umberto is not as outwardly vocal as his half-siblings. Frederick does a nice job playing the mousiness of the character, creating more with less.

Sarafina Montelone is both stunning and funny as Diana, Domenico’s latest female companion during his midlife crisis.

Domenico has brought Diana into his home with Filumena under the guise of being his live-in nurse. He’s so caught up in creating the deception, he never even realizes Diana actually is a nurse.

Tricia Miller Hewson and Elizabeth Dawson delightfully play additional servants in Domenico’s household, popping in and out of scenes as needed. Hewson also pulls double duty as Diana’s attorney in a solid, subdued performance. Hewson makes sure her characters are distinctively different from one another.

All in all, “Filumena: A Marriage Italian Style” is lively and fun. There is a playfulness to the script as brought to life by Elgin Theatre Company under the skilled direction of Hargadon for producer Richard Grieger. Stage management is aptly provided by Faith Hollander. A man of many talents, Hargadon gets credit for the set, lights and props.

Fight direction is by Stetson Cross, and Julie Bayer serves as the company’s vocal coach. On the marketing side, Jon Kramp handles publicity photos and ticketing, while Madeline Franklin and Swarthout deliver social media management.

“Filumena: A Marriage Italian Style” plays Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Feb. 25. It’s a hoot and a half, so get your tickets now.

• Rikki Lee Travolta is a national theatrical headliner and award-winning film actor. He is also a vocal advocate for the disabled. He next can be seen in a limited engagement of “Love Letters” to raise funds for Steel Beam Theatre in St. Charles. For ticket information, visit steelbeamtheatre.thundertix.com/events/223766.

IF YOU GO

WHAT: Elgin Theatre Company’s “Filumena: A Marriage Italian Style”

WHERE: Elgin Art Showcase in the Elgin Professional Building, 164 Division St., eighth floor, Elgin.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays, through Feb. 25

INFORMATION: 847-741-0532, email tickets@inil.com or go to elgin-theatre.org/tickets-2/purchase-tickets-online, www.Elgin-Theatre.org