An Extraordinary Ordinary Man Review – John Colella on his Dad

Poster for AN EXTRAORDINARY ORDINARY MAN - Photo courtesy of Ruskin Group Theatre
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“Be anything but a baker.” John Colella grew up to that mantra in his family home. Which was strange, given that his father was a baker. It was not until a lot later that John II (never Junior) understood what his dad was talking about. The Ruskin Group Theatre wanted to find out as well, and hopefully Colella’s solo show will spread light on the question in 2024.

John Colella – Photo by Austin Highsmith

Years later, Colella discovered that his father wanted his son to be nothing like him: “Our family business in Chicago, Claudio Pastry, was the center of my universe, but I wrestled with expectations that came with that heirloom, especially when I better understood the sacrifices made by the last two generations and how my dad gave up his own dreams at the age of 17 so that we could have a chance to thrive in this country. Most of us would probably prefer to build a future through a nice safe plan, but it’s the unpredictable moments and unexpected sources that shape our destinies in the most profound ways.”

John Colella – Photo by Austin Highsmith

Director Michael Matthews added: “During the pandemic, John Colella sent me a few pages he had written that would soon come to be a one-person show. After the loss of both of my parents, what I read had a profound impact on me, mostly on my heart…we are left with memories and imprints, ghosts and figures. We cope, and we sort. This play examines what it is to honor and become without fully becoming.”

John Colella – Photo by Austin Highsmith

Colella’s heartfelt tribute to his dad begins in his tight-knit Italian American family home, a home in which the family generational business that his grandfather built in 1923 was key. Like most little boys, Colella idolized his pop, a man who seemed bigger and stronger than any other man in the world – even Uncle Lennie, who was bigger in body but perhaps smaller in spirit than his dad. As the first-born son in an Italian family, it was nearly a given that John II would take over the bakery where his grandfather and father left off. And this was John II’s dream too – until he realized that show business might offer him the excitement and fulfillment that baking couldn’t. It wasn’t until far later that he found out that dad had a few dreams too, dreams that he put aside to become the perfect family man.

John Colella – Photo by Austin Highsmith

Colella is a true raconteur who does a superb job of “filling in the blanks” about his relationship with his father, himself, and the world. Little by little, the immense role his father played in John II’s development becomes obvious – as well as emotionally and powerfully inescapable. Colella strips his soul to become a vulnerable witness to his father’s legacy. At the end of the show, the audience will know Colella’s pop – and Colella as well – as he gently but forcefully allows the audience inside his emotional center to appreciate the ties which shaped him and will never end. BTW, as he matures, John II makes another profound discovery. In all the ways that count, he is really just like his father.

AN EXTRAORDINARY ORDINARY MAN will appeal to anyone in the audience who had a family – and a father, or someone who served in that role in all the ways that matter. This is a beautifully written, profoundly moving peek into a very special relationship.

AN EXTRAORDINARY ORDINARY MAN runs through February 2, 2024, with performances at 8 p.m. on January 20 and 27 and February 17, 2024. The Ruskin Group Theatre is located at 3000 Airport Avenue, Santa Monica, CA 90405. Tickets range from $20 to $30 (seniors/students/Guild members/ groups of 6+ discounted $5). For information and reservations, call 310-397-3244 or go online.

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