The project, which began as a satire of both gay life and life in South Philly as a serial for now-defunct Au Courant, concerns Anna Fontana, owner of Gaetano’s, an Italian Market restaurant that has moved to Rittenhouse Square. Her two sons are Dominic, who works in the restaurant, and Marc, a Franciscan friar who left the priesthood and now works alongside his brother.
Eight episodes are written, and last weekend, Vitacolonna staged a reading of the pilot episode of his script at the Republican Club in Port Richmond. Richie Nuzzolese read Dominic, David Moretti performed the role of Marc and Colton Ford appeared as Father Jacob. Other actors who auditioned — Danny Donnelly and Connie Romano — read the parts of Tommy, a former rent boy, and Anna, the matriarch.
“Marc is the most autobiographical for me,” Vitacolonna said in an interview. “He comes from my life as a Franciscan friar and goes through what I went through in my coming-out process as a seminarian.”
The writer acknowledged that the struggles Marc and Jacob have in “Center City” were inspired by his own experiences.
“Jacob is a gay priest, but he’s a good priest. I know people like this who do not see the hypocrisy,” he said.
The writer cast Ford in the role, he said, “because he is such a gay sex symbol.”
He also effused about Moretti, “David is very intelligent and unashamed of his gayness. He brings a lot of nuance to the role that someone who wasn’t gay couldn’t.”
At the Republican Club, Vitacolonna stroked his beard in a fatherly manner as various actors auditioned in cold readings [seeing the script for the first time].
Donnelly is perfect as Tommy and holds his own against Moretti in their early scene. Romano is engaging as Anna, but repeatedly flubs the name “Gaetano” to everyone’s amusement. During the read-through, the performers crack jokes and ad-lib, creating a warm, genial effect, not unlike the feeling one gets from the script. Nuzzolese kisses Daphne Di Cinto, the actor playing Valerie, his character’s fiancé, but Ford and Moretti resist a lip-lock (much to Vitacolonna’s mock disappointment) in their scene.
Ford gave his reading an unexpectedly soulful tone, while Moretti excelled in his monologue — a sermon about how the church considers and/or oppresses gay people. Nuzzolese exhibited a nice camaraderie with Romano, who plays his mother, as well as with Moretti, his character’s brother.
Ford said he was drawn to the character of Father Jacobs in part because “ there was a darkness and edge” he wanted to explore.
While Ford has acted (with Moretti) in the TV series “The Lair,” he is foremost a singer. His new CD, “The Way I Am,” is expected out next month.
“It’s probably my most mainstream, commercial, broad-based album,” he said.
But the musician said acting is a different way to express his creativity, which is why he enjoys having the opportunity to do a series like “Center City.”
Moretti is also excited by what the series can offer him.
“The character is not about being gay, but his family struggles and identity struggles and things from his past and future,” he said. “He’s more complex than just ‘the gay guy.’”
Making a pilot presentation in Philly, he added, can be beneficial for getting attention from someone who might greenlight the series, although he hopes the show could become a web series that will get picked up by a network. Vitacolonna is hoping for a cable station.
While in Philadelphia, Moretti and Nuzzolese played pool at a meet-and-greet with the actors at The Bike Stop the night before the table reading.
“David and I have that brotherly link already — which is great because you sometimes have a little agita when you don’t have that connection,” Nuzzolese said.
The model-turned-actor, who turned heads with his abs in the Katy Perry video for “Last Fright Night,” is excited about performing in a series that is close to his heart.
“The script matches me, it’s so Italian!” he said. “Giovanni did a great job in how natural he made the characters speak.”
And hopefully audiences will get an opportunity to hear and see “Center City.” While the show is in its initial stages, the table reading showed promise, and those in attendance left hungry for more.
Follow Gary M. Kramer on Twitter at @garymkramer.