A Proposal for a Musical about an Italian-American Trying to Prove He's Related to Voltaire
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This piece was rejected by McSweeney's. But we didn't reject it. Because we love it. And we love you.
It's set in New York's Little Italy in the late 1800s. The lead is sung by a character named Paolo Schiavio, a man torn between heading West for the Dakotas with a mail-order Russian bride or committing himself full-time genealogically proving himself a relative of Voltaire. It's a little involved and there are some continuation problems, but here's the deal: Paolo had once read that Voltaire was a keen follower of Italian football and an advocate of the excruciatingly defensive and now-discredited "Catenaccio" system (without a sweeper; that's key) that had been made popular by Padova before filtering up to the national team. Got results, but it was just so awfully negative and cynical.
Roll with me here.
The system was frowned upon by most continental teams, including and especially the French, who in general went for something more along the lines to what would become the Dutch "Total Football" in the 1970s. Our protagonist feels that this indicates that certainly Voltaire is of Italian heritage -- in our man's eyes, half the battle. Also, he has seen a lithograph of Voltaire which he believes indicates a faint family resemblance. He keeps it on his person at all times.
Stay with me.
For these reasons, Schiavio has always considered Voltaire to be a kindred soul, and in fact later -- much later -- names his children Cunegund, Zadig, Micromegas, and Brobdignag, only to suffer great-and, of course, he really should have seen this coming-embarrassment and shame throughout his village when informed that "Brobdignag" is from Swift, and that it is not a person name, but a place name. He is fortunate that Brobdignag grows into an abnormally large child, so that people say, "Yeah-he seems like a 'Brobdignag.'"
Finally, Schiavio decides against pursuing the Voltaire legacy and elects to go West and take up with the Russian. He is to meet a man who will act as go-between. The meeting takes place as planned, but it does not go well. The man has a photograph of the woman-as it happens, she is not Russian, but Serbian (this isn't particularly important to the story, but it does signal Schiavio that perhaps all is not as it seems). Also, she is -- and this is sad -- empirically unattractive. Panicked, he drops the whole mail-order business and the entire idea of ever seeing the Great Plains. He feels his life empty, until he finds himself a nice Italian girl, whom he marries.
Without anything else of consequence to do, he resumes his interest in Voltaire. Tragically, he finds after years of study that the author and social critic is not related to him in any way, has no Italian blood in him at all, and was tactically inclined toward something much more like what we today think of as the Hungarian Honved Budapest model, as he, Voltaire, was prescient in feeling that a withdrawn center forward was harder for defenders to pick up in the run of play. Paolo pines for the prairie, though he has never been there, and this is represented by a series of flat notes immediately after the bridge during the love theme.
Dennie Wendt should write this play, perform it as a one man act, and send us a video