A familiar face is back among us.
Carlo D’Amore got his start in the acting world more than a decade ago in productions with some prominent Bay Area theaters: Theatre Rhinoceros’ Twelfth Night, the Magic Theatre’s A Park in Our House and Dog Opera and several San Francisco Shakespeare Festival touring park productions.
Then, with “ants in his pants,” as he puts it, he headed off to New York in 1996 to try life in a bigger pond, only to bottom out before attaining a measured degree of success.
“It was a lot harder than I suspected,” says D’Amore (at right, photos by Rudy Meyers). “But I’ve done pretty well and been lucky enough to work on Broadway a couple of times. For a 5’6″ white Latino who doesn’t sing, that’s a huge accomplishment.”
While living in New York, D’Amore’s mother, a colorful character to say the least who had lived her life as a flamboyant con artist, had a stroke and needed the care and attention of her son.
Born in Peru to an Italian father and a Peruvian mother, D’Amore emigrated to the U.S. and lived in the South Bay. That’s where he came into contact with acting, but he attributes his acting gene to his mother.
“She always used to say that had she been an actress, she would have been amazing,” D’Amore says. “But she was an actress because she was constantly putting on personas in her scamming. She was basically performing, making you think what she wanted you to think. She was fearless in her sort of attack. I learned from her how to do that. Even when I started studying at American Conservatory Theater or with Jean Shelton, I was always a natural.”
While taking care of his ailing mother in New York, D’Amore found himself having to grow up a little bit and become a caretaker. His mother, true to her history, “pulled some shenanigans,” as D’Amore puts it.
“After 30 years of going through these experiences, it came home to me,” he says. “I went ballistic. I came close to…I don’t know.”
He came more than close to pouring his heart out in what would become No Parole, an autobiographical one-man show, the basis of which is this: “Family is a life sentence.”
“I locked myself in for two weeks and wrote 80 pages, single spaced,” D’Amore recalls. “I was pouring these rants, these huge rants, onto the page.”
From that, he was able to perform a chunk of the show in its early stages at the Tribeca Theater Festival. “I was told they were looking for people of color, and I thought, `Hey, I’m colorful!” D’Amore says. “I did it and got some awesome feedback. From there I wanted to go more in depth with it. I worked with a director, Joe Megel, and he told me that with this kind of work, there’s no place to hide. I was talking about my mother, but part of me was still trying to protect her.”
Years before, at Theatre Rhino, D’Amore had performed in the one-man show Men on the Verge and savored the experience of being an actor alone on stage. “I wanted to have that experience again,” he says. “And it turns out the best story I had to tell was my life story and growing up with my mom.”
A producer friend in San Francisco convinced D’Amore to bring his show here, where it ran for several weeks last year at the SF Playhouse. That version of the show was heavy and dark, according to D’Amore.
“My sense of humor is very dark,” he says. “Things I thought were funny just horrified people. People were moved by it, but they weren’t laughing as much as I wanted them to. Something was still not clicking.”
Further work on the show at the Lark Play Development Center in New York and then work with director Margaret Perry have taken the show, D’Amore says, to a “totally different place.” When No Parole opens tonight (Thursday, Nov. 13) at The Marsh, where it runs through Dec. 13, audiences will see a show that is, according to its creator, at least 30 percent new material.
“I think I’m done writing the play,” says D’Amore, who will soon be 40. “It took three years, but it’s finished, and I’m thrilled with where it is.”
D’Amore’s mother didn’t see him on stage for a long time, but not too long before she died, she did get to see him in an early version of No Parole, in which he plays her as a vibrant young woman and as a 60-year-old debilitated by a stroke.
“She saw me do this in 2005 in the first version of the show,” D’Amore says. “It was pretty interesting to have her see that. I think it must have been difficult for her to watch. Part of her loved the fact that she was being immortalized. She’s a huge personality, and along with that comes quite a bit of ego, which is why I think she was able to do all the things she did. She was unstoppable.”
Coming back to San Francisco, D’Amore says, always feels like coming home. He has fond memories of working at the Magic and says that Danny Scheie, who directed him in Theatre Rhino’s all-male Twelfth Night set on a submarine, is “probably the best director I’ve ever worked with. Nobody else is quite as creative or fun.”
There’s a second solo show in the works, Feet First, and though it’s based on his mother’s brother, this is quite a different piece, and at no time in the show does D’Amore play himself.
“My uncle died in San Quentin chained to a hospital bed. It’s a tragic story,” D’Amore says. “The title comes from Incan lore: if you’re born feet first, and you make that journey, you’ll be blessed to waltz through life. It’s basically about a man looking at his life from prison and attempting to pass a positive image on to his son.”
D’Amore pauses and admits that talking about the show gives him “full-body goose pimples.”
“I’m thrilled not to be a one-trick pony writer.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
No Parole continues through Dec. 13 at The Marsh, 1062 Valencia St., San Francisco. Tickets are $15-$35. Call 800-838-3006 or visit www.themarsh.org.