Vittorio Rossi tribute
a smashing success

Canadian-Italian playwright/actor honoured as part of the Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival

By Byron Toben

A week before the one-night Tribute to playwright Vittorio Rossi at the majestic Rialto Theatre as part of the Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival, M.C./organizer Marianne Ackerman confided to me that she feared a small turnout.

She need not have worried. About 300 attendees showed up, including many local theatre luminaries, reminding me of a META (Montreal English Theatre Awards) annual Oscar-like evening.

The revelation at the end of the night was the announcement that actor/playwright Rossi now has backing for presentation of three of his plays over the next while. The first, which he will also direct, is a revival of his first play, The Chain, 30 years ago. (He has since written 13 more.) That will be held at McGill’s Moyse Hall, September 10 to October 6, 2019.

The Chain Vittorio Rossi -

“The Chain” rehearsal

Six months later, again at Moyse Hall, will be the world premiere of The Chain: Part II, which will relate what happened to the characters 30 years later. (Shades of Ibsen’s A Doll House: Part Two recently seen at the Segal Centre!) Director Harry Standjofski has been selected for Rossi’s update of his own play.

The third play, in September 2020, will be a revival of his Paradise By The River, about the internment of Italian-Canadian citizens during WW II.

For some years, I had quietly suggested that playwriting be included in the annual awards evening of the Quebec Writers Federation. That finally came to fruition when Gabriel Safdie introduced that category at its 2018 awards event and Infinitheatre quickly followed up by producing a staged reading of the winning play (by Erin Shields). Glad to now see the Blue Met also giving more attention to drama as literature.

About 300 attendees showed up, including many local theatre luminaries, reminding me of a META (Montreal English Theatre Awards) annual Oscar-like evening.

The evening began with a VIP cocktail at 6 pm and then ceremonies at 7 pm.

Comedian Guido Grasso opened up festivities with amusing comments about his friend Vittorio before turning things over to host Marianne Ackerman.

Like Rossi, she also had had some plays produced at the Centaur (her, I believe two, he, four). Thus they knew of each other, but she had not made a sustained study of his works. After meeting him and reading all his plays on a lengthy binge, she came to the conclusion that they indeed qualify as literature.

Many deal with the description of Italian immigration to Canada, Quebec in particular, and giant back screen photos of his parents and early years complemented some readings of snippets of some of his plays by a variety of fine local actors.

play reading Vittorio Rossi -

Backstreets (1987) was read by Donny Falsetti, Domenic Di Rosa and Mike Ricci.

Scenes from Hellfire Pass and Carmella’s Table (2006-7) featured Karl Graboshas, Lisa Roy, Richard Zeppieri, Govanna Carrubba and Milva Franzini.

Rossi’s accomplishments as an actor were also exhibited with clips from the long-running TV hit, Omerta.

The evening closed with two final speakers.

Barry F. Lorenzetti, a childhood friend from the old Ville Emard district has joined with Norman Steinberg of MJJ Entertainment to underwrite the forthcoming productions mentioned above.

Finally, the honouree himself spoke, thanking all in site and many relatives in the audience as he recalled his history in being “discovered” by Geordie theatre founder Elsa Bolam and going on to being championed by Centaur director Maurice Podbrey.

A number of autographed paperbacks of Rossi plays were available for sale.

Feature image: Barry F. Lorenzetti and Vittorio Rossi
Images: courtesy of Marianne Ackerman
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Read more articles from Byron Toben

Byron Toben, a past president of The Montreal Press Club, has been’s theatre reviewer since July 2015. Previously, he wrote for since terminated web sites Rover Arts and Charlebois Post, print weekly The Downtowner and print monthly The Senior Times. He also is an expert consultant on U.S. work permits for Canadians.
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