BRATTLEBORO -- Everybody has a Nonie.
Seth Lepore just happens to have written a play about his.
"She was the matriach of our family. She was the center of our universe," said Lepore, a nationally touring solo performer and former Brattleboro resident. "She was just a spitfire, slightly crazy, non-stop-talking, no editing kind of grandmother."
And last year, while Lepore was touring a show, she died.
"It was just really hard. I started writing a memoir to deal with it," Lepore said.
Somehow, through a combination of factors, including a sudden opening in a slot in a festival, Lepore decided to turn that memoir of Nonie into a one-man show.
The result is "Firecracker Bye Bye," a sweetly twisted love letter to his grandmother that Lepore will be performing in Brattleboro on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 8, 9, 15 and 16, at 8 p.m., at the Hooker-Dunham Theater, 139 Main St.
Billed as "A Comic Tearjerker about the Best Italian-American Grandmother. Ever," "Firecracker Bye Bye" is the latest offering from Lepore, who previously wowed local audiences with "Losing My Religion" and "SuperHappyMelancholyexpialidocious." Having taken on organized religion and the happiness industry, Lepore has shown a willingness to boldly go with his humor and sharp insights where few dare to go. Still, was it really wise to turn his own family into characters he would play on stage?
"I was really trying to be careful to play them as I knew them and I see them, but also to do it in a way that is complimentary to who they are," he said, offering pretty strong proof that he was able to achieve that balance. "My aunt saw the show, and she loved it. That was big because she's second in line in the family to my grandmother."
Nonie was the central figure in Lepore's large Italian-American family, legendary in good, and not so good, ways for her lasagna experiments, her homemade sweaters, her obsession with crochet work and her unfiltered discourses, as well her boundless love. Nonie and young Seth had a special relationship.
"She shared things with me she didn't with other people. I would prod her about things and ask her things," he said. "She was Roman Catholic because her family was Roman Catholic. She was a Democrat because her family was a Democrat. And I would ask her ‘Why?'"
Audiences have enjoyed getting to know Lepore's family, as told through his nimble shape-shifting characterizations and comically twisted skills of observation. Perhaps they're relieved it's not their family; most of them, however, see something of their families in Lepore's.
"A lot of people come up to me after the shows and say ‘I have an aunt that's like this' or ‘My grandmother's just like that' and that's exactly what I'm going for," said Lepore. "This is about the American family. I'm trying to show how we drove each other nuts but also how we really loved each other."
When he performed the show in Minneapolis, audiences loved it, and the Twin Cities Daily Planet wrote "this heartfelt show is just about impossible not to enjoy." It played just as well, if not better, to audiences in more heavily Italian-American Providence, R.I.
Directed by Linda McInerney, "Firecracker Bye Bye" had its premiere at the Minneapolis Fringe Festival in August. Tickets are $13, $10 for seniors, students and military. Advance tickets are available at http://bit.ly/sethums.