Baked In: Loving Life With Father

Photos of John Colella by Austin Highsmith

John Colella’s An Extraordinary Ordinary Man is a paean to the writer/actor’s dad and his
Italian-American clan. In his autobiographical one-man show Colella lovingly, vividly brings his
family alive onstage, regaling the audience with vignettes from his youth, growing up amidst the
family business in Chicago. Claudio Pastry was established by Colella’s immigrant grandfather,
who arrived penniless from the Mother Country and created an enduring, thriving business that
was passed down to the playwright’s father.
The bakery became the center of the family’s existence. When John was a child, he relished
learning all of the tricks of the baker’s trade, as well as devouring delicious desserts baked right
on the premises. In the play, indulging in paisano pastries such as cannolis and eclairs, little John
amusingly muses that it was as if he had his own private, personal “Willy Wonka.” He also
idolized his dad, a baker so skillful that to his son, his pop was a three-star-plus Michelin chef,
imbued with mystical flour power.
However, to his son’s surprise, John Sr. would repeatedly counsel his lad to “be anything but a
baker!” when he grew up. This mystified John Jr., who simply worshipped his hard-working dad
for his artsy touch baking goodies, designing birthday cake toppings, etc. He was puzzled, that is,
until the acting bug bit around 9 th grade or so, when John II got one of the lead roles in the school
production of West Side Story. Encouraged by his father to attend De Paul University because of
its superior drama program, Colella pursued the stage and screen as an avocation, and leaves
Claudio Pastry’s flour behind in his proverbial dust (if not in his heart), moving out to the Coast
to follow his dreams.
And lucky for we theatergoers that he did. Colella is a gifted thespian whom I’ve had the
pleasure to see tread the boards at the Matrix Theatre in Rogue Machine’s anti-police brutality
Blue and at the Laguna Playhouse in another anti-racist classic, Reginald Rose’s 12 Angry Men.
Like his father, Colella always delivers the goods – albeit from behind the footlights, not while
on a delivery run in the family vehicle. Colella’s many TV credits include Hawaii Five-O and on
the big screen 2011’s The Chicago 8, about the infamous trial of antiwar radicals at Colella’s
Colella’s 80-ish minute reenactment of his family members, their woes and wows, their highs
and lows, is generally absorbing and enjoyable, although once in a while, as he dives deep down
into the weeds of the clan’s dynamics, some members of the aud may feel: “Mama mia! I’ve got
enough going on in my own family!” LOL. What is especially heartwarming is the profound
father-son bond Colella expresses and extolls, which is genuinely quite lovely and admirable.
What a lucky guy! However, John II’s relationship with his mom is another thing, but to his and
the play’s credit, it evolves over time.
Also refreshing is that this solo show about Italian-American characters avoids the trite tropes
that people who trace their ancestry back to Italy are often smeared with. You can call that

stereotyping: “Goombah Bah Humbug!” Here, “family” refers only to loved ones and relatives,
not to fellow mobsters. And it’s moving what John Jr. learns and discovers about John Sr., who
along the way reveals some long-buried surprises that are pulled out of his sleeve.
Michael Matthews deftly directs his cast of one in bringing a variety of characters alive in this
celebration of life with father – an extraordinary one, at that. This infectious, feel-good, sweet
tribute to a salt of the Earth guy invites one to take a bite out of the family business. It’s likely to
make viewers feel like not only eating a cannoli, but hoisting a glass of Chianti to toast: “Viva
La Familia!”
Critic’s suggestion: As An Extraordinary Ordinary Man is being performed at Ruskin Group
Theatre on the same dates as another solo work, It’s Only a Show!, this reviewer recommends
that theatergoers make it a double feature. As both are relatively short one-act plays, ticket
buyers can catch the 5:00 p.m. performance of It’s Only a Show! then stay to watch
Extraordinary at 8:00 p.m. to get a double-header of live theater. However, if you plan to do this,
please bear in mind that each solo show requires separate admission.
An Extraordinary Ordinary Man is being presented Saturdays on January 20, January 27 and
February 2 at 8:00 p.m. at Ruskin Group Theatre, 3000 Airport Avenue, Santa Monica, CA
90405. For reservations or call (310)397-3244.