by Jenna Rocca
From now until Saturday March 26th, Canadian Stage is hosting a celebratory festival of Italian Arts at the Berkeley Street Theatre. The spotlight.italy evening I attended included performances of La Natura delle Cose and Nunzio.
Tickets included other festivities as well: fashion displays, installation art, samplings of the culinary offerings of Biago ristorante, and musical performances after the shows. It was a veritable microcosm of Italian culture.My evening began with Campagnia Virgilio Sieni’s La Natura delle Cose (the Nature of Things) in the Downstairs theatre. Some of the most disturbing masks I have ever seen are the stars of this puppeteer-like movement piece. The expressionless, chalky-pink head of a cross-eyed baby becomes the eye of the storm in a whirlwind of limbs.
Raspy, Italian lines are sporadically whispered throughout the performance. The overall feel is one of visions from a nightmare.
Ramona Caia is the only one of the five dancers to don the various heads, and she wears them with commendable playfulness. Her fragile limbs seem both youthful and ancient; ready to split apart at the wrong move. She starts with the neutral, scary-blond mask, later donning the awkward, oversized baby head. These masks are really creepy: it is hard to see where the human ends and the mask starts.
Finally, Christ-like in blood-red sequins: the aged face of what was once a woman. It seems out of sorts for her to finally wear a moose-head with that same dress especially considering most of the choreography places the bodies in movements that are anything but human.
My favourite is the opening (scary-blonde mask) when she becomes a kind of puppet to the other, male dancers. It seems like her movements are entirely controlled by the men who carry and maneuver her like a doll through the human entanglement.
A giant, inflated hand looms over the proceedings from behind the transparent sheath that surrounds the stage on three sides. At what I feel was the emotional climax, it moves toward the audience ominously with the sheers draping over it, teasing its grasp.
The sound design: ambient and relentless. It is like an interpretation of what the world might sound like to a deaf person: “Something bitter from the fountain of delight,” indeed.
Upon entering the Upstairs theatre at Berkeley, to see Nunzio, the first thing I noticed was the smell of salami. What a beautiful smell, indeed. And yes, there is a melamine table with a piece of salami and bread sitting on it. Upon a fridge sits the framed image of a sacred-heart Jesus with a lit, red glass devotional candle before it.
The classic, subtle Italian humour takes on many forms in this short, three-act play by the duo Compagnia Scimone Sframeli. This kind of humour will pervade the nuances of a brilliant comedian. Timing and rhythm are key in gags such as what I call the “unconsciously simultaneous drinking of an espresso” bit. Two men’s synchronized pauses between sips are punctuated with the drop of cup to saucer.
The absurd-tragic story takes place entirely in Nunzio’s (Francesco Sframeli’s) kitchen. It opens with a coughing fit and an invocation of Christ. Playwright Spiro Scimone plays his mysterious friend who doesn’t crack a smile, but he is still concerned about the happy-go-lucky Nunzio’s health.
Sframeli’s performance is adorable and touching. At one point when an audience member sneezed the actor said “salute” (the Italian equivalent of “bless you”), clearly looking in her direction, without breaking character. I think I was the only person who laughed because I know exactly what that means.
This very character-driven play is a lovely snapshot of these characters’ relationship with a with a hint of absurdism. Beckett and Pinter are listed in the program as influences and it showed. There is a lot of descriptive dialogue surrounding bathing suits, thongs, and the like, that is endearing and humorous. However it was not the content of the communications that really mattered in this text but the soul.
My only disappointment was with the surtitles; sometimes they weren’t accurately translating what was being said. I know some Italian conversationally, and while the text is written in Messinese dialect, I know hardcore swearing when I hear it and some of those words were just skipped right over. I can’t imagine how great the show would be for a native Italian-speaker.
Still, it was a minor setback for a great contemporary show.
The spotlight.italy festival continues at Canadian Stage until March 26th with many other exciting performances and events to be taken in.
Nunzio and La Natura delle Cose will be performed until Saturday, March 19th. Campagnia Scimone Sframeli will also present La Festa during next week’s program. Don’t miss them before they return to the stages of Milan and Rome!
– tickets can be purchased online and run from $22-$32
Photo: La natura delle cose. Choreography by Virgilio Sieni.