Grandmother knows best

Seth Lepore's 'Firecracker Bye Bye'
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  October 9, 2013


Tolstoy dismissed all happy families for being alike, but if he had met Seth Lepore’s he might have gotten a kick out of some of their habits and personalities. Firecracker Bye Bye, written and performed by Lepore, is a one-man show populated by several mildly amusing characters and one irrepressible live wire — his grandmother, Nonnie.

The 70-minute animated scrapbook of an Italian-American family is being performed at the 95 Empire Black Box through October 13, directed by Linda McInerney.

Things open briefly in the afterlife, though that sounds grimmer than it is. A slightly bent over little old lady is calling out for company in a little old lady voice, finally accepting with equanimity: “Nothing to do, nothing to be.” Clearly this was a woman who in life had plenty to do and plenty to be, on however humble a scale. Seth’s parents divorced before he was one, so Nonnie was his main influence from the start.

One of the first things that Lepore has her volubly advise him is that “next to breakfast, education is the most important thing.” Good advice. Speaking of food, she gets Prince spaghetti 5-for-1 on Triple Coupon Days so she doesn’t understand his spending money on restaurants. She is not so much criticizing as pointing out that she has better ways of getting things done.

Matriarchs through the ages have been this self-assured, ever since that first caveman was yelled at by his mother for letting a Brontosaurus haunch drip on the cave floor.

Since food has equaled love for at least that long in human history, and since love is more easily expressed in terms of food than in words, it’s a wonder that by now Seth isn’t the shape of a large hand-packed ice cream carton. In his youth, he finessed that progression by becoming a vegan. Nonnie’s response was to feed him a monthly tray of tofu lasagna, a ghastly mutation he had to choke down until a slice of Fellini’s pizza ended his self-abnegation.

Nonnie’s generosity in sending him things is always appreciated but is sometimes complicated. A small table is filled with representations of his grandmother’s seemingly industrial-scale crochet production: scarf, garish green watch cap, a multicolored something that looks like a telephone cozy. But the crowning gift was a plainly colored but ornately decorated square with a hole in the center, a poncho that would make the wearer look like an Irish Mexican in a thick wool serape. Seth’s wife Sharon, while thanking Nonnie on the phone, makes the mistake of saying that he likes it — and he panics, probably imagining that a car cozy is next.

In contrast, while studying at Naropa University, he receives monthly FedEx shipments of Nonnie Biscuits, which are quite a hit among his friends — dry and grainy at first, but then delicious and mysteriously addicting.

Other family members come into play, and sometimes we are confused about who is speaking. On the phone, his mother shouts an aside to his stepfather that they have to watch what they say, since she suspects that Seth is chronicling everything. The only other person we hear much from is Frank, his father and Nonnie’s son, a casually dignified presence, upright and unrushed.

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