Zesty indie comedy from Rhode Island is a winner, with ethnic humor easily mixing with universal truths about dealing with families. With its ensemble cast peppered with recognizable thesps, "A Wake in Providence" has good commercial potential.

Zesty indie comedy from Rhode Island is a winner, with ethnic humor easily mixing with universal truths about dealing with families. With its ensemble cast peppered with recognizable thesps, “A Wake in Providence” has good commercial potential.

Anthony (Vincent Pagano, who also co-wrote and co-produced) is an aspiring actor living with his girlfriend, Alissa (Victoria Rowell). She’s attractive, she’s got a good job as a paralegal, but she’s also a secret to Anthony’s family back East because she’s black. When his mother calls to announce that his grandfather has died, he returns home with Alissa to pay his respects — and tries to survive the reactions of his clan.

As Alissa notes, however, it’s more than 30 years since “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” and race is only one of many issues brought to the fore as the family gathers for the wake and funeral. There are great vignettes, including wiseguy wannabes (John Mariano, co-scripter Billy Van Zandt) who mistakenly believe the mob is after them, an uncle (Louis Guss) who keeps everyone informed on the state of his testicles, and lively Aunt Lidia (a vibrant Adrienne Barbeau), who confides to Alissa that the only way to survive this family is to drink.

The script’s four writers all appear in the film. Besides Vincent Pagano and Van Zandt, Mike Pagano appears as Anthony’s brother Frankie, and Jane Milmore is the pregnant wife of a cabdriver (Mark DeCarlo). The humor is mixed with unexpected turns, as when Frankie makes an impassioned speech defending his brother’s girlfriend only to make a surprising confession of his own.

First-time director Rosario Roveto Jr. keeps the pacing brisk. Tech credits are first-rate, with Providence, R.I., looking warm and lived in, as opposed to the shabby grittiness favored by Ocean State filmmaker Michael Corrente (“Outside Providence”).

A Wake in Providence

Comedy

Production

A Mister P. Prods. presentation in association with Gladiator Pictures. Produced by William Redner, Vincent Pagano, Rosario Roveto Jr., Patrick Coppola. Executive producer, Michael Williams. Directed by Rosario Roveto Jr. Screenplay, Billy Van Zandt, Jane Milmore, Vincent Pagano, Mike Pagano.

Crew

Camera (FotoKem color), Mark Kohl; editor, Gareth O'Neil; music, Ed Alton; production designer, Bonita Flanders; art director, Deborah Davis; costume designer, Joseph Roveto; sound (Dolby), John Levy; assistant director, Brett Dos Santo; casting, Sharon Chazin. Reviewed on videocassette, Boston, Sept. 7, 1999. (In Boston, Ft. Lauderdale Film Festivals.) Running time: 94 MIN.

Cast

Anthony - Vincent Pagano Alissa - Victoria Rowell Frankie - Mike Pagano Aunt Lidia - Adrienne Barbeau Aunt Elaine - Micole Mercurio Claudia - Lisa Raggio Rudy - Dan Lauria Gram Baldassarre - Kaye Kingston Uncle Guy - Louis Guss Uncle Joe - Sam Coppola Uncle Sal - John Capodice Vinnie - Mark DeCarlo Patty - Jane Milmore Brunie - John Mariano Louie - Billy Van Zandt

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