By Jane Heil Usyk
The basement of Our Lady of Pompeii Church is a vast, cavernous space where the Senior Center meets. In the summer, there are talks on great painters of the past and classes on painting restoration. Local political clubs and community boards also meet there.
Now, there is a new addition, with a separate doorway on Carmine Street—a space devoted to Italytime, a cultural organization that presents theater, Italian movies (with English subtitles), live music in a cabaret setting, author talks, and a course in Italian and acting.
Vittorio Capotorto is the dynamo behind this cultural activity. He is a theater director, producer, and actor from Italy who came to New York in 1997 after staging over 100 plays in Italy. At Our Lady of Pompeii and elsewhere, Vittorio has produced and directed in English (translated by his wife Maureen Gonzalez) works by Pirandello, Dacia Maraini, and Paolo Tartamella. Vittorio has also taught an Italian Theater Practicum at Columbia University and other colleges to help students improve their Italian through acting.
Italytime, formerly Teatromania, was first intended to present theater, but then expanded to include movies, music, and all kinds of arts. In 2015, Vittorio met the pastor of Our Lady of Pompeii, Father Walter Tonelotto, and proposed the cultural center to him. Vittorio said that he could provide all of the necessary equipment, and that he would bring the basement to life—with theater, readings, interviews, film, music, and dance—all with an Italian flavor. And he has done so, with the help of Father Tonelotto and a core group that includes, among others, Maureen Gonzalez (a gifted, multilingual translator), and Francesca Illuzzi, who makes some of the costumes for theatrical productions. The seating arrangements for movie nights are charming cafe tables surrounded by two or three chairs each, creating a more intimate experience than the usual rows of chairs.
The films, all in Italian with English subtitles, are shown on two Monday evenings a month, starting on September 25th, through December. Check the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/italytime/) or the outside of the church for exact dates. Theater plans include presenting plays, meet-the-author discussions, workshops for kids, and Italian short readings. (Some shows will require ticket purchases.)
Italytime has already presented a few free musical evenings. One had a Gershwin theme and another, a Duke Ellington theme. For these performances, a corner of the basement was transformed into a Greenwich Village nightclub, with a raised area where excellent musicians and singers performed. Non-alcoholic refreshments including cappuccinos and sodas were served.
The next meet-the-author talk, on September 12th at 7:00 p.m., will feature Dean Anthony J. Tamburri, a Distinguished Professor at Queens College of CUNY, author of more than a dozen books on Italian and Italian-American studies, and Dean of the John D. Calandra Italian-American Institute of CUNY. He will discuss, in English, the complex enigma experienced by immigrants everywhere, including the hundreds of thousands of Italians who immigrated to America in the early 20th century, many to Greenwich Village. The key topic is whether to adapt to the new culture and disown one’s origins, or remain faithful to one’s heritage. The talk will be followed by a Q&A and a related one-act play, The Visa Interview, by Paolo Tartamella.