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Recalling life with grandfather

Helena Leet-Pellegrini's solo show 'The Luigi Code' draws on her childhood with an Italian anarchist grandfather. Helena Leet-Pellegrini's solo show "The Luigi Code" draws on her childhood with an Italian anarchist grandfather.

In the midst of the Boulder International Fringe Festival, 70-year-old storyteller Helena Leet-Pellegrini of Wayland fielded a call from a reporter about her one-woman show, "The Luigi Code." The piece tells of her years growing up with an Italian anarchist grandfather -- a grandpa who hobnobbed with the infamous Vanzetti (of Sacco and Vanzetti), and she's there to perform it six times.

"I feel like I'm on the high-wire act," said Leet-Pellegrini through a static-filled connection. "There are so many people here. . . . It's quite the ride."

A psychologist, mother of three, and grandmother of four, Leet-Pellegrini began performing just three years ago, but when she launched into a line from the show over the phone, she has the lilting, riveting delivery of a pro.

"I remember a gentle man," she said in a slow, measured voice.

"My grandfather used to love to fish, but he never used a bait or a hook. He didn't want to hurt the fish. He used to say, 'The beauty of fishing is not in catching the fish,' " she concluded in a robust Italian accent.

The one-hour show goes on to explore the humor of growing up in a Worcester triple-decker overflowing with family, the contradictions of her grandfather's gentle nature and his passionate political beliefs, and the fear of persecution that dogged three generations of her family.

"My mother was 10 years old at the time that Vanzetti [was executed]," she said, explaining that the Italian anarchist from Boston, who many believe was put to death for his beliefs and ethnicity and not for a crime, was often a guest at her grandfather's Worcester home.

"So a lot of the piece is made up of passed down, scattered memories. It's primarily about how it affected our family emotionally and how all the fears get passed down through a family," she said. "But there's plenty of humor, too. I like to combine the humorous and the poignant."

On Wednesday, Leet-Pellegrini returns with her show to the place where her newfound career began, the Out spoken Word Series at Amazing Things Art Center in Framingham.

When she learned her grandchildren would be moving away a few years ago, Leet-Pellegrini began looking for something to fill her free time. A born storyteller socially, she decided to give the stage version a try.

"I had this eight-minute story that I started practicing on my 8-year-old granddaughter, who after I finished said she liked it and smiled and said, 'But next time, grandma, a few less um's and er's,' " said Leet-Pellegrini.

So she polished her act, braved the open mike at Outspoken Word several times, and studied the craft at workshops until Outspoken host Libby Franck suggested she do a feature-length piece. It was daunting, but she overcame her fear by making it her theme. "Living Out Loud: Odyssey to Creative Expression" chronicled her struggle to find the confidence to perform. "The Luigi Code," or "Living Out Loud Part II," followed.

"I had this 1913 photograph of my grandfather with Vanzetti, and I met a historian researching Sacco and Vanzetti and that gave me the impetus to pull this all together," she said. "I believe stories are alive and they call us to them, and this one called to me."

"The Luigi Code" 7:30-10 p.m. (preceded by open mike) Wednesday at Amazing Things Art Center, 55 Nicholas Road, Framingham. $6. Call 508-405-2787 or visit amazingthings.org or helenaleetpellegrini.com. Also at Club Passim in Cambridge on Nov. 19. Call 617-492-7679.

JAZZ SOUNDS: In the 15 years since Jason Anick first picked up a fiddle at age 6, he's won plenty of prizes, and he's also traversed a continent or two of musical ground. Starting with classical violin (which he confesses he had to be forced to practice), he quickly moved onto bluegrass, traditional jazz, bebop, modern, and more.

This Saturday he shares his latest passion when he performs rhythmic, swing-like Gypsy jazz on Marlborough's Union Common with the Boston-based group Sinti Rhythm. The free performance is part of the Arts Alliance's Saturday Morning Discovery Series.

"No one has to make me practice Gypsy jazz," joked the music and acoustic engineering student, now studying at the University of Hartford's Hartt Conservatory. "I love the energy that it gives off and the energy it imparts on the crowd. It's very listenable music."

Anick, 21, picked up the Gypsy habit from his dad, Peter Anick, who plays fiddle for a local bluegrass band, Wide Open Spaces.

"He went on a business trip to France when I was in high school, and he met some actual Gypsies and heard them play, and we've been listening to Gypsy jazz musicians like Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli and playing it ever since," he said.

Meanwhile, the genre, which first grew popular in the '20s and '30s, is undergoing a revival. "It's definitely growing and it's been growing for years," said Anick. "In the last 10 years, about five Django fests have started up in the US, and more and more musicians are gravitating to the style."

But Anick won't say if this is the last musical stop for him. "I try to mix it up," he said. "Recently, I even wrote an Irish tune."

Jason Anick and Sinti Rhythm 11 a.m. Saturday, Union Common (corner of Main and Bolton Streets), Marlborough. Free. Rain location: Walker Building, 255 Main St. Call 978-562-1646 or visit upwitharts.org or jasonanick.com.

STAFF DUTY: "It looks like gracious, effortless living when you come to Gore Place, but it took a lot of work to run this place," said Susan Katz, director of education.

So in honor of the 14 servants who ran the 400-acre estate during the early 1800s, the Waltham historic museum is offering Labor Day moonlight tours that tell of their oft-unrecognized toils.

Costumed guides will share nifty tidbits, such as head servant Robert Roberts's recommendation for how to cure a body of drinking too much (put three eels in their liquor and they'll be too disgusted to take another sip). The tour also points out the work of the skilled craftspeople who built the home, including its entirely curved drawing room, The Oval Room.

Full Moon Labor Day Tour 7 p.m. tomorrow (doors open at 6:30 p.m.), Gore Place, 52 Gore St., Waltham. $12; children 5-12 $8. Call 781-894-2798 or visit www.goreplace.org.

CURTAIN GOING UP: Enter Stage Left, Hopkinton's little new theater, has expanded its offerings once again. Area teens have spent the summer rehearsing and doing all the tech work for their first youth workshop production, the musical "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown."

"We really wanted a summer program that would get high school and college students involved on all fronts. They're doing sets, lights, makeup, and they're even playing in the orchestra pit," said cofounder and show director Kelly Grill.

Grill said this is a small but full production with a colorful set that captures the comic-strip feel and offers plenty of classic "Peanuts" moments.

"We're hoping that when others see the show, that they'll want to join the next one," she said.

"You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" 8 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday; also 2 and 8 p.m. Sept. 8 at St. John's Parish Hall, 20 Church St., Hopkinton. $12 adults; $10 students and seniors. Call 508-435-2114 or visit enterstagelefttheater.com.

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