At first glance a classic tale of immigrants to North America, there is something more to Vittorio Rossi’s autobiographical A Carpenter’s Trilogy than the conflict of a romanticized past confronting the excitement of a brighter future. Carmela’s Table, part two of this chronicle, finds Silvio, the decorated Italian war hero, settled in a new suburb of Montreal with his wife, their three children and his mother, applying for immigrant status in 1957.
Bristling with a cold and violent sense of outrage at the wartime horrors he survived in North Africa; his prison camp experiences in England; a bigamist father who abandoned his young family to emigrate to Chicago; betrayed by his mother who raised him and his sister in the humiliating poverty of their Italian village; it is easy for the audience to empathize with Silvio’s cold-hearted need for retribution, lashing out at everyone and everything around him as the play opens.
While Rossi’s dramatic portraits of Silvio’s manipulative mother, Filomena, his inexplicably loyal wife, Carmela, and their understanding and supportive neighbours, Neva and Dave, are finely drawn variations on what have become pop-culture stereotypes of Italian immigrants, they clearly exist to allow Rossi to peel back the complex layers of Silvio’s psyche—to reveal what drives him to his bi-polar excesses of emotion: the willfully constructed memory, the unassailable sense of honour, the judgmental dismissal of what he perceives are the faults of others, and an intransigent refusal to acknowledge his complicity in the creation of his own problems—all the classic symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
In the play’s final cathartic scenes, however, Silvio is forced to understand that to have consistently chosen not to act on what he has always known has also been a choice—one that now finally threatens to overwhelm and destroy his family.