It is 1956, and Silvio Rosato, a decorated World War II veteran, shows up at the house of his father, Eduardo Rosato, who had abandoned him and his mother in Italy in 1920 to start a new life and family for himself in Chicago. Silvio’s Italian-American half-siblings, Eddie and Ida, are fascinated by this stranger who has suddenly appeared in their lives. Handsome, assured and accomplished, there is something not quite right, something sinister about this visitor, with his air of familiarity and the distant, impenetrable look in his eyes. This mystery begins Hellfire Pass, part one of Rossi’s autobiographical A Carpenter’s Trilogy, A Chronicle in Three Plays.
At first glance a classic tale of immigrant families, of the lives they build in the new world and the lives they leave behind in the old, there is something more at play here than the conflict of a nostalgia for a romanticized past confronting the excitement of a brighter future. Which of Eduardo’s families is “legitimate”—the one he abandoned in Italy or the one he raised in America? He has constructed an identity based on a fabric of self-serving opportunist lies for both, fictions that rapidly disintegrate under the steady gaze and relentless demand of what appears to be his only legitimate heir. Refusing to acknowledge Eduardo as his father, Silvio dislocates the question of legitimacy from one of paternity and history to one of individual responsibility and action. But it?s not just Eduardo that’s in trouble here. Can Silvio attain the legitimacy he considers his due without destroying the members of both families? And does he have the right to create his own sense of legitimacy at the cost of destroying the lives of all those around him? If so, how is he any less of a monster than his father?