by Paula Romanow Etzel
Irvington resident Robert Firpo-Cappiello will perform his new play, Festa, at Dixon Place in Manhattan on Tuesday, June 6 at 7:30 p.m. Firpo-Cappiello is a writer, actor, director, and composer whose highly-acclaimed solo show Beggars Rain was presented as part of the Irvington Town Hall Theater’s Stage Door Reading Series in October, 2015. Upon garnering rave reviews for his Irvington performance, Firpo-Cappiello was invited to perform Beggars Rain as a work-in-progress at Dixon Place in August, 2016.
Festa is a 40-minute solo show in which a grown man, Bobby, recalls episodes from his youth in a working-class Catholic neighborhood. The play employs a poetic street vernacular that mingles dark humor with childlike wonder as it explores the surreal nature of early childhood and the turbulent and tender awakenings of teenage sexuality.
Firpo-Cappiello describes Festa as a coming-of-age story, though from a very different perspective than classics like Stand By Me or To Kill a Mockingbird. “Those stories are perfect at capturing kids coming of age in very high-stakes situations,” noted Firpo-Cappiello. “They are brilliant. But I seem to be fascinated by the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it everyday moments — a turn of phrase, a facial expression, a small act of heroism – that change lives.”
Firpo-Cappiello’s masterful inventiveness leads to unexpected discoveries. “My stories always end up delivering strange surprises and nasty turns. If the audience is expecting a kiss, they get a slap.”
In summarizing the episodes he said, “Episode one is about 11-year-olds, puppy love, and handball on a Catholic school playground. Episode two is about an emotionally disturbed 13-year-old boy who disrupts a Bible class and is banished to the basement. Episode three brings several 15-year-olds together at Festa, the Feast of Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrows – ‘the kind of night a guy might lose his virginity, the kind of night a guy might lose an eye.’”
Although the narrator of Festa is named “Bobby,” the play is more fictional than autobiographical. “The underlying themes of yearning and dark humor are true to my own adolescence. But this is a work of fiction; I’ve taken some facts, events, and pieces of dialogue from my own life and twisted them into something entirely new.”
Firpo-Cappiello is an Emmy-nominated composer with a Master of Music degree from the San Francisco Conservatory; his collaborations with playwright/lyricist Lisa Ferber have been presented at Altered Stages, the Duplex, and the Brick Theatre. While there are no songs in Festa, he said that for the show he “composed and recorded short pieces of acid jazz (essentially a hip-hop/jazz hybrid). And my language is, I hope, musical. I feel strongly that people come to the theater to be moved by stories that are told in sounds and rhythms – Otherwise they’d just stay home and watch TV.”
Firpo-Cappiello, who lives in Irvington with his wife and two children, is editor-in-chief of Budget Travel magazine (budgettravel.com) for which he makes frequent television appearances on CNBC’s On the Money, the Weather Channel’s AMHQ morning show, and PIX11 Morning News. He made his show business debut at the age of five on WOR-TV’s Romper Room.
Dixon Place is located at 161A Chrystie Street in lower Manhattan. An artistic incubator since 1986, Dixon Place is a Bessie and Obie Award-winning non-profit institution committed to supporting the creative process by presenting original works of theater, dance, music, puppetry, circus arts, literature and visual art at all stages of development. For more information, visit: www.DixonPlace.org.