CHICAGO – Stop middle-schoolers from portraying a bunch of mobsters on stage? Fuggedaboutit!
Italian-Americans upset over a suburban school play titled "Fuggedaboutit — A Little Mobster Comedy," performed by "the Bada Bing Players," lost their federal court bid Wednesday to halt this weekend's production.
The decision came a day after a mother and son filed a civil rights lawsuit claiming that the play, written by a teacher, promoted hurtful stereotypes in its portrayal of old mobsters who look and sound like characters from "The Sopranos." (In fact, the Bada Bing is the name of a topless club in the TV series.)
But a judge ruled that the show — scheduled for Friday and Saturday at Rotolo Middle School in Batavia — can go on.
"Public interest cries out for free expression in our schools," said U.S. District Judge John Grady, who ruled against Marina Amoroso-Levato and her 12-year-old son, a student at the school.
The controversy began several weeks ago when Amoroso-Levato's son brought a copy of the play home. When she read it, she was outraged by the portrayal of Italian-Americans in a script that, she said, included the word "greaseball."
Amoroso-Levato contacted Dona De Sanctis at the Order Sons of Italy in America. She, too, was offended, and the organization backed Amoroso-Levato.
The play is about the opening of an Italian restaurant, and its characters include two elderly mobsters who appear to everyone in the play, including two FBI agents, to be up to no good, said school board attorney Anthony Scariano.
But what nobody realizes until the end is that the mobsters are actually buying surplus food for orphans, he said.
Scariano, who is Italian himself, said the message of the play is a positive one: "You can't judge a book by its cover."
But De Sanctis complained that if there is a moral, it comes at the end of a play in which Italian-Americans talk about things like "whacking people."
"They are trying to pawn off on us that even though somebody may be a gangster and spend their life stealing and murdering and taking from society, he's going to reform by giving tuna for tots," she said. "The moral of this play is just as offensive as the play."
The play was written by drama teacher Matt Meyers, who is not Italian. The school said he was not available for comment.
In court, Amoroso-Levato's attorney Joseph Rago argued that the school should be prevented from putting the play on because students of Italian descent will suffer from poor self-esteem and "others will come away with an inaccurate portrayal of an ethnic group."
"They're very impressionable," he said. "They are defenseless to deal with it."
Amoroso-Levato said it was not a total loss: After she protested, "greaseball" was taken out of the script.