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Piccolo Teatro’s “Inner Voices” Plays on Absurdity of Life, Italian Style
When: Through June 29
Where: Piccolo Teatro di Milano at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, 800 E. Grand on Navy Pier
Info:(312) 595-5600; www.chicagoshakes.com
Run time: 1 hour and 50 minutes with no intermission
In one of the most beguiling scenes in Eduardo De Filippo’s play, “Inner Voices,” an elderly man recalls how in a happy Neapolitan household people would routinely move the furniture around, changing the position of a dresser or placement of a carpet. The realignment was a reliable source of contentment. But not now.
The “now” is the time immediately after World War II. Fascism had just been defeated, but Italy was left spiritually upended and desperately poor, and the furniture of an entire society had shifted radically. Nothing — particularly human relationships and the once dependable bonds of trust and justice — could be depended upon. Life had become not so much a dream as an unreliable nightmare.
You can well imagine the impact De Filippo’s play had when it first arrived in 1948. But watching the altogether glorious production by the Piccolo Teatro Di Milano now being presented as part of Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s invaluable World’s Stage series, it also is easy to understand why a revival of this play might strike a powerful chord with many contemporary European audiences — especially those facing economic meltdown and the unraveling of life as they’ve known it for decades.
Had Samuel Beckett been an Italian absurdist rather than Irish one, this is the play he might have written, though you’d have to toss in a bit of Arthur Miller, too. An unlikely combination? Absolutely. But De Filippo found just the right tone for capturing a shattered world trying to piece itself back together. And of course he gave a particularly Italian spin to matters of superstition, familial conspiracy, betrayal, scandal, gossip and talk of food, church and money.
So just what is the actual story being told here? It is about what happens when the elderly Alberto Saporito (Toni Servillo, the production’s sublime leading actor and director), mistakes a dream for reality.
Alberto shares in a fading furniture business with his rather devious brother, Carlo (Peppe Servillo, a gaunt figure who winningly devours an eating scene), and also cares for his ancient, mute, wise fool of an uncle, Nicola (Daghi Rondanini). After a young friend and neighbor, Aniello Amitrano, disappears without explanation, Alberto has an impossibly vivid dream that convinces him the man has been murdered by other neighbors, the Cimmarutas, and he and Carlo enact a sort of citizen’s arrest of Pasquale Cimmaruta (the marvelous Gigio Morra), a wreck of a man, clearly traumatized during the war, and convinced his wife is working as a prostitute. Alberto accuses Pasquale of covering up the dirty deeds of his bitter, feckless son, Luigi (Vincenzo Nemolato).
Chaos ensues, with other relatives and neighbors involved, and with almost all exhibiting the very worst behavior. The law is no match for such intimate betrayals, real and imagined.
Played out on a raked stage with a poetically minimalist set by Lino Fiorito (magically lit by Cesare Accetta), this artfully envisioned production is performed in Italian with projected English translation. But the body language of the 14 actors here (including the notably winning Chiara Baffi and Betti Pedrazzi) is so brilliant, you might almost find yourself wishing the words, as wonderful as they are, would disappear. After all, as Alberto realizes, the world is a madhouse, and maybe Uncle Nicola, who communicated only by setting off firecrackers, was really on to something.
One final note: Like “Inner Voices,” “Divina Natura,” the sound-and-light spectacle inspired by Dante’s “The Divine Comedy” – and staged Monday night at the Field Museum — was part of the United States’ 2013 Year of Italian Culture. But it was a disappointment. Beyond the tedious welcoming speeches that went on almost as long as the hourlong spectacle itself, Marco Nereo Rotelli’s imagery did little to illuminate either Dante’s masterwork or the work of the contemporary poets it supposedly inspired. And after a while it all looked like just so much fluid high-tech graffiti, illuminating little about “The Divine Comedy,” or medieval Italy or the modern world. Some of the readings were well done, but it would have been nice had the projections incorporated at least some suggestion of the many different alphabets and languages used by these modern poets, along with snippets from their poems.