Charming. Classic. A slice-of-life of a family sitting down to Sunday dinner. The heavenly fragrance of ragu simmering on the stove. I wonder how many theatre patrons made a beeline for the nearest Italian restaurant once the curtain went down on the cast of Saturday, Sunday, Monday.
Saturday, Sunday, Monday, currently being staged at the Virginia Repertory Theatre in Richmond, is sure to evoke fond memories of Sunday dinners with a passel of relatives. Even if the memories aren’t so fond, they’re likely to be familiar.
Penned in 1959 by renowned Italian playwright Eduardo De Filippo, this dramatic comedy is set in post-war Naples and portrays the Priores, a large Italian family rife with conflicts, resentments, and misunderstandings. The central characters are the patriarch, Peppino Priore, and his wife, Rosa. Rosa rules the family from the kitchen and brooks no disobedience.
Theatre reviewers Rich Griset of Style Weekly and Tony Farrell of the Richmond Times-Dispatch didn’t view Saturday, Sunday, Monday as I did. Mr. Griset wrote that the play seemed dated with the plot relying heavily on Italian stereotypes. He also had an issue with the story’s main conflict. Mr. Farrell was slightly more laudatory but thought too many story lines populated the story. In his words, “Too many ingredients to allow for one bold flavor that might give us a satisfying emotional through-line.”
Both reviewers make valid points—to a point. There are many story lines. But isn’t that to be expected in a large family? How many story lines run through the typical Downton Abbey episode?
Is this play dated? I used the term “classic” to describe Saturday, Sunday, Monday, which in my view means it’s not dated. While family lifestyles have changed, family dynamics haven’t much since this play first appeared on stage almost sixty years ago.
As for the Italian stereotypes (pasta, musical accent, gestures, chaos—no mafia!), Mr. Griset poses this question: “Comedy often relies on the common experiences of a culture, but at what point do you go beyond mocking stereotypes and begin endorsing them?” But does the question even apply here? I don’t think so. If a non-Italian, like me, wrote this play, it would surely be deemed offensive to use stereotypes for comic effect. As an example, it’s unacceptable for a white person to make a joke about Asians, while Asians could make a similar joke about their own culture with no objection. Comedians have built careers mining their ethnic backgrounds for laughs.
DeFillipo, a Neapolitano, had his own people in mind with Saturday, Sunday, Monday. Authors often hear these words that have become a virtual mantra: “write what you know.” De Fillipo, who likely drew his writing inspiration from his own family dinners, did just that.
The heart of the story is the conflict between Peppino and Rosa. Three months before, Peppino complimented another woman’s cooking, and Rosa began acting indifferently towards him. She believed the compliment was an insult to her. Cooking is her life, her identity.
Mr. Griset comments, “For three months, Rosa has acted indifferently to Peppino, and instead of talking through the problem like any normal couple, Peppino accuses Rosa of infidelity at a family dinner.”
“Normal couple” is the key phrase here: Saturday, Sunday, Monday is a glimpse at a dysfunctional family—nothing normal about this bunch. What self-respecting dysfunctional family doesn’t have at least one member who harbors resentments? Some will nurse grudges for decades, not a mere three months. Mr. Griset may have grown up in a normal family who enjoyed open communication but I’m sure many theatregoers will recognize Peppino and Rosa’s behavior—and that of the rest of the family—with a nod and a wry smile. When all is said and done, aren’t we all searching for love, dignity, and acceptance? Some of us have to do this in a chaotic family environment. That’s why we can relate to the characters in Saturday, Sunday, Monday.
And it’s not so bad to come from a dysfunctional family. Where would writers be without their scrappy, conflict-ridden, resentful, passive-aggressive kinfolk who manage to be just loving enough? My own dysfunctional family has gifted me with story ideas for years to come.
Who wants to watch a normal family eating dinner, anyway?
Saturday, Sunday, Monday runs through March 6 at the Sara Belle & Neill November Theatre (formerly the Empire Theatre), 114 West Broad Street, Richmond, Virginia.
For Rich Griset’s review in Style Weekly, click here.
For Tony Farrell’s review in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, click here.
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