Mary Jo LaCorte has always been fascinated with the Italian culture primarily because of her mother's family.
Growing up in Linn, LaCorte only was able to see her maternal Italian relatives once a year since they all lived on the East Coast. However, she enjoyed the love, laughter and interactions between her family during those special visits, including her maternal grandmother and grandfather, who were born in Sicily.
"My mother, grandmother and my aunt would get to talking and lapse into Italian, and then they would glance at me. I knew they were talking about me. I asked my mother at some point, I would like to learn how to speak Italian. She said, 'No we are in America and we speak English, so we don't need to speak Italian,'" LaCorte said with a smile.
These fond memories inspired the matriarch in a play LaCorte began writing 12 years ago, "Love's Calling," which will make its debut May 9-11 and 16-18 at Scene One Theatre, 623 Ohio St. in Jefferson City.
"Maria is based on a combination of my mother and grandmother. She speaks but when she gets excited, she lapses into the Italian," LaCorte said. "The mother is very like how I perceive an Italian mother. 'If I haven't seen you for a day, I am going to start worrying. I need to hear from you and know where you are.'"
As the story of Maria and her three daughters unfold in Maria's kitchen (the epicenter for this Italian family), the audience discovers the oldest daughter Caterina, played by Jamie Waier, has moved back in with her mother because she and her husband are getting a divorce.
"She is trying to make her way back into finding herself without her husband and living with her mom, which there are a lot of interesting things that happen when you come back to live with your mother as an adult," LaCorte said. "Then there is the middle daughter, Angela (played by Erin Matteson), who lives close by and comes to see her mom every day and brings her food and checks on her. She is the more motherly one."
Michelle, the youngest daughter and played by Jessi Green, is in college, does not live at home and just happens in and out whenever she feels like it, LaCorte added.
"There is a twist at the end that we find out that the mother has been harboring a secret all most of her adult life. The secret does come out and causes a lot of anxiety, ruffled feathers," LaCorte said. "There is a lot of back and forth between the sisters all throughout. Sometimes it is funny and sometimes they get a little heated. That is just the way families are."
LaCorte said there are a lot of similarities between the characters in "Love's Calling" and the actor's personal lives and traits, which she, play director Rachel Steinmeier and their fellow actors didn't know about in advance.
Waier said she is able to draw from her life experiences to best portray Caterina, "relating to this character in every way," she added. Green loves to act, is an energetic, easy-going personality much like Michelle.
"My character is just like everything is fun, everything is cool guys. I'm kind of just off in my own world," Green said with a smile. "I act a lot and my character is taking acting classes. She digs all the attention; I can relate to that."
As her "sisters" lovingly refer to their middle sister as "mini Maria," Matteson said she also shares similarities with Angela in that she is a middle child, lives a little closer to home to take care of her parents.
"I think it is fun in our respected families we have those roles that we can pull from. There are lots we can't and don't relate to as well," Matteson said. "For example, my character can be more obtuse than I tend to be, but it has been fun and interesting to pull in that humor for Angela."
As for Maria, Howser is at least 20 years younger than the character, but Steinmeier and the crew have been doing a good job aging her to fit the physical role. In addition, Steinmeier was able to bother her own Italian mother's best housecoat for Shellie to wear.
"If you show up to my mother's house at 3 p.m. in the afternoon, she is probably wearing this," she said with a smile, pointing to the navy blue, beautifully embroidered piece of clothing. "I asked her if we could bother one of her housecoats for Shellie to wear in the play, and she picked this one out specifically because with Shellie's coloring, it would look the best, my mother said. This is one she wears all the time, and I said we could pick a different one. She said, 'Your audience still needs to have something nice to look at.' It was so funny and sweet."
Shellie said she has the same sense of humor as Maria and loves playing the part of an old nagging woman.
"I have the same sense of humor Maria does. Although I'm younger than the character, I'm old enough that I can appreciate what she is going through," she said. "I also love that this play stars a group of women, directed by a woman and written by a woman."
LaCorte's love of theater developed first with taking a dancing class and eventually trying out to participate in a musical theatre production. She fell in love with live theatre and delved into acting and then directing at all of the local community theatre companies — The Little Theatre, Capital City Productions and Scene One Theatre.
Writing plays came later for The Yoga Studio manager and instructor, and about the same time as she began crafting "Love's Calling," her first full-length play debuted locally called "Cowboys." This script follows a young girl who got into trouble, spent time in prison and now is trying to start her life over and find her way, with the setting mostly at a restaurant.
When LaCorte started writing "Love's Calling," she laid into it but then developed writer's block and set it aside. Her computer crashed and she lost her original manuscript, forcing her to recreate the script.
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"It still sat for awhile and I started writing it again and I finished it," she said. "I sent it to Mark Wegman at Scene One. He said 'I love it, but keep writing it, keep writing more and flesh this out, do that and do this.' It kept going until it was ready to be a full-length play."
LaCorte has a couple plays in the works, with a couple short ones that she plans to produce this year, including the one-act play "Reconciliation" at Scene One Theatre's Not So Short Attention Span Theatre on July 18-20, 25-27. Her calling to write this play was important, as is the phone calls Maria and her daughters take throughout the show.
"The name of the play comes from the several phone calls that are important phone calls. And it is all about love, too," LaCorte said. "I hope everything comes and enjoys a night of helping you feel good and forget about what is going on in your life or in the world. Seeing it live is pretty incredible. I just love live theatre because you are right there with them and in their lives. You immerse yourself in these people's kitchen."