Volume 74, Number 48 | April 06 - 12 , 2005


Fashion Institute of Technology
Hoft Auditorium
7th Ave at 27th Street,
Apr 9 & 15, 8 pm, Apr 10, 16, & 17, 2 pm
(212) 352-3101

‘Village boy’ still performing and engraving

By Jerry Tallmer

The kid who had won the 1979 Drama Award at Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn figured that engraving “was a great way to avoid waiting on tables” while pursuing an acting career in Manhattan. “And there was more money in it,” he allows.

After all, the kid’s grandfather in Italy had been an engraver. The kid’s father had been an engraver in this city. So Joseph Anthony Callari, Jr., set up a little engraving shop within the Macy’s department store in Rego Park, Queens.

Today, “Your Name Here, Inc.,” engravers on glass, metal, wood, plastic, what have you, Joseph A. Callari, Jr., prop., is celebrating its 25th year in business, the first ten of those years at the Rego Park Macy’s; the next eight on the sixth floor of Bloomingdale’s 59th Street (supplemented by a studio at 39 West 14th Street); and the next six going on seven of them – which takes us right to now – up a half a flight of steps at 250 West 14th Street, on the northern edge of Greenwich Village, almost at the corner of Eighth Avenue.

Celebrating a somewhat longer anniversary is the Village Light Opera Group, which with five upcoming performances of “My Favorite Year” – April 9, 10, 15, 16, 17, at Fashion Institute of Technology – wraps its 70th year of existence. As King Kaiser, a character loosely based on the great Sid Caesar, is baritone Joseph A. Callari, Jr., member of VLOG since 1997.

“I’m a Village boy,” says Callari, who took an apartment on 14th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues – one block west of his present store – 22 years ago, and is still there. “Went to the HB Studio on Bank Street for a couple years. I hang out at the Back Fence, which has been at Thompson and Bleecker forever. I was a founding member of the Courtyard Players at 39 Grove
Street, and for about five years was managing director of the New York Repertory Company at 83rd and Amsterdam.”

He takes delight in demonstrating how to cut glass with either a rotating lathe-like stone, for grays and shadings, or, for a fine line, with a diamond stylus.

“The blank glass is dark, low-light, it’s the black. You figure it in reverse. Like etching. Here, watch, look through both sides of this glass pitcher. See? I make a tree, wrapping it around so it’s coming at you from both sides of the glass.

“Or this column [solid glass, maybe an inch and a half square by 10 inches high]. “It’s the four seasons, with trees and branches intertwining. Wherever my eye and the branches take me is the way it goes. Or this plaque, the Statue of Liberty with a tear in her eye for September 11, 2001. It’s not for sale.

“All this is Old World equipment designed by myself.”

Callari, one of the eight children – including two sets of twins — of Joseph, Sr., and Theresa DeGregorio Callari – was born June 4, 1961, in Brooklyn. All the years from Rego Park up, he was “working very hard as an actor without any pay.”

Eight years ago some friends told him that the Village Light Opera was about to do “Bells Are Ringing,” the Comden-Green-Styne-Judy Holliday musical in which there’s a Marlon Brando wanna-be named Blake Barton – “and because I do a stupid Marlon Brando imitation, they called me and said: ‘Joseph, there’s a part in it you have to play.’ ”

That was the first of some eight shows he’s done with VLOG.

“My Favorite Wife” is one of the favorite funniest movies ever made, at least if you’re this moviegoer. Directed by Richard Benjamin in 1982, it starred Peter O’Toole as a washed-up, drunken, womanizing, charming Errol Flynn type given one last shot on the King Kaiser (Joe Bologna, playing Sid Caesar) TV show. Mark Linn-Baker played Benny Stone, a young go-fer given the impossible job of getting Alan Swann (O’Toole as Flynn) to the studio on time and sober, and Lainie Kazan was Benny’s Brooklyn Jewish mother at whose dinner table O’Toole gallantly took refuge.

A 1992 Lincoln Center musical version was less funny though well meaning, and the Evan Pappas who played Benny Stone there is now the director of this VLOG show.

And Callari? He has not married. “But I’m working on it. My girlfriend and I are talking.” She’s Jennifer Luers, actress. They met in the Village Light Opera’s “Dearest Enemy,” an all-but-forgotten Rodgers & Hart 1925 musical. But Joseph Callari and Jennifer Luers haven’t forgotten it.

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