Shut Up Sit Down & Eat

Italian-American stand-up comedy (or is it group therapy?) moves onto the set of ”Perfect Crime” at the Snapple Theater Center.

Eric Tartaglione, Joe Moffa, Tina Giorgi, and Chris Monty star in Shut Up Sit Down & Eat, directed by Eve Brandstein, at the Snapple Theater Center.
Eric Tartaglione, Joe Moffa, Tina Giorgi, and Chris Monty star in Shut Up Sit Down & Eat, directed by Eve Brandstein, at the Snapple Theater Center.
(© courtesy of the production)

You can't accuse this show of false advertising. With a large Italian flag printed above the title on the front of the program and a logo that looks vaguely like spaghetti and meatballs, Shut Up Sit Down & Eat bills itself as, "The only cure for Italian insanity." Yet judging from the hearty laughs emanating from the Snapple Theater Center, that insanity is very much part of the draw.

Shut Up Sit Down & Eat is basically four contrapuntal stand-up routines masquerading as a group-therapy session. Tina Giorgi, Joe Moffa, Eric Tartaglione, and Chris Monty sit in a psychologist's office (played by the set of the long-running off-Broadway thriller Perfect Crime), waiting for the doctor to arrive. As they grow impatient, these four Italian-Americans begin chatting with one another, commiserating about their marinara-flavored dysfunctions.

Or rather, they chat at one another. The show describes itself as America's first "plomedy," which they define as a new form combining stand-up comedy, solo performance, and a play. The latter of which is the thinnest of pretenses for the meat of the event: Throughout the 90-minute show, each of the four comedians steps away from the group and into a spotlight to deliver bits and pieces of his or her individual acts as they relate to the larger discussion.

They talk about crazy immigrant grandparents, ostentatious funerals, and hilarious corporal punishment. Monty wears a fedora and habitually checks the newspaper for information relating to betting and horse racing. Giorgi talks about how out of place she feels among her husband's family of blond-haired, blue-eyed first Virginians. Everyone crosses themselves at the mention of Saint Frank Sinatra.

They also venture into topics outside the realm of stereotypical Italian-American concerns: "I hate airports," Tartaglione mugs out at the audience, sounding like a more aggrieved version of Jerry Seinfeld. Then there are those hallmarks of stand-up: goofy relatives and sex. While some of these well-worn topics might elicit eye rolls and groans, anyone with a sense of humor will find laughs in this show, thanks largely to the idiosyncratic delivery of the performers.

Moffa, in particular, has a gift for highly specific and hilarious imagery, offered up with perfect comic timing. "I look like an ass with a head on top," he deadpans, causing the three other comics onstage to crack up. As the only woman in the group, Giorgi stands out the most for her wit and ability to go toe-to-toe with the boys. She's also the only one without a Greater New York-area accent. She shares a very serious story about a former student (she was once a high school teacher) that ends with her in tears. And that's where the dramatic solo performance comes in.

The three men also share some deeply personal anecdotes, some of them choking up while doing so. Director Eve Brandstein elegantly stirs these tearful moments into the show's larger comedic sauce, for a resulting flavor that is funny, tragic, and just a little syrupy.

Food is an ever-present theme, our North Star in this voyage of ethnic humor. Tartaglione produces several giant sandwiches wrapped in tin foil. Monty lists the type of pastas and cheeses he likes best. Moffa makes some off-color remarks about zeppoles as they relate to a part of the male anatomy. And Giorgi (ever the black sheep) admits that she can't cook at all. You may feel the need to Google a trattoria for a post-show dinner.

In truth, this show is kind of like an extra-large New York pizza: Some folks might reject such a clichéd and sentimental feast of carbohydrates off-hand, but those who find it comforting won't be disappointed.

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