A "Don Giovanni" for John Fante

il Centro
Cultura & Società
8 march 2000

His son's play soon in the USA waiting for an Italian translation
by Paolo Di Vincenzo

Dan Fante, writer John Fante's son, recently completed a play on his father under the title of "Don Giovanni". Only Abruzzese paper Il Centro was allowed to read it in Italy, and Dan Fante, who visited Abruzzo in September, was so kind to answer the questions sent by e-mail.

"Don Giovanni" might almost look like a prologue to Dan's book "Chump change" (in Italian "Angeli a pezzi", Marcos y Marcos). In the latter, Fante junior recounts, in the typical family style (which means with a strong autobiographical element) the days preceding his father's death. In the comedy another sad moment is told. In the by now famous Y-shaped home (the setting of "My dog stupid", a tale included in the collection "A ovest di Roma", Fazi - "West of Rome" in the English edition) where the Fantes lived for years and where Joyce - John's wife - still resides, the scriptwriter's two sons meet to receive the very bad news that the father must undergo amputation of one leg because of his diabetes (in the last years of his life, Fante had to undergo amputation of his legs and became blind. He died in 1983 at 74 years of age).

The play "Don Giovanni" is a very hard portrait of the family, with violent clashes between the father and the two sons, and of the two sons with each other, with some very crude passages (also because of the language used). It is largely autobiographical. Dan Fante will stage it in the next few months in Los Angeles and would be very happy to stage it also in Abruzzo (but the work is still to be translated into Italian), the land (Torricella Peligna) from where his grandfather left for Colorado.

Q: Did your recent trip to Torricella supply some inspiration to the play, and, more generally, where did you take inspiration for "Don Giovanni"?
A: The inspiration to write Don Giovanni was the so much bad information (or misinformation), written and oral, on my father. I wanted to describe what kind of man he was. His dignity. His passion. His mistakes. And I wanted to tell the truth on the relationship between fathers and.

Q: Is the title a reference to your father, or is it also somehow connected to the Don Juan myth?
A: It came out from my father's name, John. In the play his son Dick addresses him jokingly as Don Giovanni, with the aim to annoy him. Moreover, I like the title. It is deceiving. And it evokes my family's Italian American culture.

Q: How much does the play owe to your father John's "My dog stupid" (published in "West of Rome") and how much to your own "Angeli a pezzi" (="Chump Change")?
A: No, the comedy does not owe anything to either. It is a play about the relationship between a father and his two sons. About honesty and determination . It was not written with the aim of laying a "pink cloud" around my family's life. It was intended to tell the truth on the conflicts arising between people, on their mistakes and their passions.

Q: Is the family portrait you describe, with violent verbal quarrels, the sweet and sour relations, typical of an Italian American family or is it, more generally, a portrait of a contemporary American family?
A: The family portrait that comes out in "Don Giovanni" is that of an Italian American scriptwriter who is growing old but is trying, in his own way, to "solve" the relationship with his two sons. It is a work of hope. Moreover, I think it applies exclusively to the characters involved, though America, with its values and materialistic culture, certainly plays a decisive role in the conflicts arising between the characters.

Q: After reading "Angeli a pezzi", it would seem the play came chronologically before the novel, is that true?
A: No, I wrote "Don Giovanni" after "Chump Change" .

Q: John Fante wrote wonderful pages but, as revealed by his letters and also from your novel, as well as from your interview granted to Il Centro in September 1999, he was not surely a very easy person.
A: My father came from a poor family. As a boy, he worked and suffered. As an adult, he became a brilliant writer. He always kept everything under control. He was always in charge. He loved his children and his wife, but in his own way. He was a contradictory, complicated man, always angry but wonderful. If in the play he should appear kinder to the other characters, that would be a wrong representation of what John Fante really was.

English text edited by Albert Porreca