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'Passione' nibbles; 'Awake' blinks; Rampal; and Stray Cats

There's a lot wrong with ''Passione.'' It's a veritable lasagna of Italian and WASP stereotypes, sentimentality, sexual jokes and innuendo, and profanity. The actors are too young for the parts. Corny dialogue. Overacting. Incorrect dialects. You name it.

It's also very funny. There's a twinkle behind the excesses that makes them palatable, and a warm family feeling.

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Set in Boston's North End (playing there as well, at the Nucleo Eclettico Theatre), Albert Innaurato's play deals with the inevitable clash that erupts when a North Carolina hillbilly (now a doctor) comes to pick up her belongings from her Italian-American ex-husband (a failed inventor whom she deserted eight years ago), and to reconcile with her son.

Innaurato slaps on the stereotypes with a trowel. The Italian men sing, eat a lot, kiss and hug each other, and try to seduce the women. The prim ex-wife has an empty life, and the rowdy sister who accompanies her is a militant feminist with a cleaning fetish. The culture clash is predictable, but often funny.

The playwright serves up an antipasto of issues: success vs. failure, feminism vs. chauvinism, being a ''Wop in a WASP society,'' overweight in a skinny society. While the foibles of both cultures are shown, the barbs are sharpest against the WASPs, whose lives come across as barren compared with the warmth and sensuality of the Italians.

None of the issues are cooked through, but some nice points are made. The ex-wife judges her daughter-in-law, Francine (a circus fat lady), to be the symbol of the Italian-American family's failure. Instead, Francine turns out to be the glue that holds it together.

Most of the characters are larger than life and are directed by Grey Cattell Johnson to be even more so. The loud and salty WASP sister (played with great vitality by Ursula Drabik) sounds more like a Texas cowgirl than a hillbilly. Francine (Janet Cicchese) has a huge ''aria'' to the joys of obesity. Her father (Paul Dunn) carries absurdly high loads of household belongings around.

The play's at its best when the characters are squabbling or zinging off one-liners. In the quiet, emotional scenes it sometimes gets schmaltzy and physically awkward. But it's a rollicking, genuinely funny play, and those are hard to come by.

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