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THEATER : Saga of an Italian Family : Sherry Adamo stars in her father's autobiographical comedy 'Spaghetti and Apple Pie.' In a sense, it's the story of all immigrants.

October 23, 1992|MICHAEL ARKUSH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sherry Adamo never met her grandmother. For years, all she knew about the proud and passionate woman came from old snapshots and stories.

Thanks to her father, who has chronicled the family's story in "Spaghetti and Apple Pie," an autobiographical play, Adamo is getting a second chance.

"I feel like I know her," said Adamo, 45, who will portray her grandmother in the play that opens tonight at the Group Repertory Theatre in North Hollywood. "She really does begin to take over, and I lose myself. I've learned more about the roots of my family this way than all of my father's stories."

Her father, Sam Adamo, 78, wrote the play three years ago. In a sense, it's the story of all immigrants. Parents adhere to the values of the old country while their children embrace the traditions of the new homeland. Like his daughter, Adamo said the process has brought the past to life.

"I remember the dialogue from years ago, and I feel like I understand my parents now," Adamo said. "I appreciate what they went through in the Depression."

"Spaghetti and Apple Pie," set in New York City in the mid-1930s, is a comedy that doesn't hide from controversy.

One grandfather moves in with an Irish lover, and is considered a gigolo. A daughter elopes and won't tell the family whom she has married.

In real life, at 17, Sherry Adamo did elope, and for two years, she and her father didn't talk. By rejecting a huge wedding, Adamo denied her father a chance to host one of the most glorious events in Italian tradition.

"I felt betrayed," Sam Adamo said.

"I felt estranged from the family," said his daughter, who noted that she called frequently in an effort to patch things up with her father, who refused to talk to her.

They finally reconciled when Sam Adamo answered the phone and heard his daughter's voice. They have been close ever since.

"That sound was so sweet," he said. "I couldn't say no to her anymore."

(Sherry Adamo divorced her first husband after almost a decade, and has since remarried.)

By 1980, Sam Adamo's wife had died and he decided to move from Rochester, N.Y., to Los Angeles to start a new life and to be near his daughters, Sherry and Paula, who lived here.

But, in his mid-60s, Adamo wasn't coming out to retire in the sunshine.

"I was never the type to sit on the beach and feed the pigeons," he said. "I always need something creative to do."

For the rest of the decade, he acted, getting a small role on TV's "Archie Bunker's Place" and on stage in 1987 at the Wiltern Theatre in "Arsenic and Old Lace."

Acting was not new for him. In the 1930s and '40s, he appeared on Broadway as the male lead in "The Bishop Misbehaves," which also starred Jennifer Jones. But Adamo gave up the profession to work in construction and real estate to provide financial security for his family.

"I didn't want to pigeonhole my family in a New York City apartment while I traveled," he said.

He said he has never regretted that decision.

"I know a lot of people who stayed in the business," he said, "and wound up getting married and divorced several times. They never had a happy family life, and they got out of it. I had a great family, and now I'm doing more work than they are."

Adamo said he wrote the play with the notion that Sherry would play his mother. On Christmas Day in 1989, he presented it to her as a gift.

"I had no idea that he was doing it," said Sherry Adamo, who has acted in commercials, and appeared in last year's "The Only Thing" at the Group Repertory Theatre, among other shows. "It was such a thrill because it was so good."

Where and When

What: "Spaghetti and Apple Pie," written by Sam Adamo and directed by Craig Alpaugh.

Location: Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood.

Hours: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays, beginning tonight through early December.

Price: $8-$10.

Call: (818) 769-PLAY.

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