Review: La Festa (Compagnie Scimone Sframeli at Canadian Stage)

by Dorianne Emmerton

Company of La Festa

On Tuesday night I attended a production of an Italian play, La Festa, performed by its original Italian troupe, Compagnie Scimone Sframeli as part of Canadian Stage’s Spotlight.Italy Festival.

Sometimes an intricate plot leads you on a journey to a place you never expected. Sometimes a recognizable plot gives you standard expectations for a production to subvert. Sometimes plot is a road to drive toward insight; sometimes it’s a structure to drape with insight.

But plot is not integral to insight. Sometimes plot, as it is traditionally understood, can be thrown out the window.

The plot of La Festa, is this: it is a couple’s 30th anniversary. They have a son who is a young adult. The husband is going out to work for the day but at the end of the day they will celebrate with cake and champagne.

There are details in there, like that the husband’s boss is of dubious integrity, and that the son has girlfriends over for sex and his mother does not approve. But none of this moves the action forward because the action does not really move forward. No progress is made. No lessons are learned.

This is Theatre of the Absurd, which is really what compelled me to see it. I love Theatre of the Absurd.  The program compares La Festa, to Beckett and Pinter and it was exactly like Beckett or Pinter.

It’s funny and depressing and disturbing; these are the hallmarks of Absurdism and La Festa, is definitely all three. The physical comedy of the actors is impressive. The actor who played the husband, who I think is also the playwright Spiro Scimone, spends the entire play in a posture that is very funny and must be very difficult to maintain. (The program lists no characters but the playwright is one of the actors and google image searching leads me to believe he was the husband.) Similarly, the other two, the wife and the son, had peculiar mannerisms.

At first I thought this was an older play, in part because it’s such a classic example of Absurdism that it seemed likely to be from the heyday of the 50’s and 60’s. I also thought this because there is an element of potential domestic violence, played comedically, which also seemed dated. After the show, however, I looked at the program to discover that this is the playwright’s third work, the first being done in 1993.

Since Absurdism is, as mentioned, always depressing and disturbing, this element didn’t ruin the experience of the show for me.  But while I laughed at many depressing and disturbing things – in this show and in other contexts – I think a man threatening to hit his wife is just never funny in this day and age, even when the wife is played by a man.

This cross-gender casting wasn’t for any theatrical reason that I could discern. It certainly wasn’t a Brechtian/epic theatre device. I believe that it was simply that the two main characters in any Compagnie Scimone Sframeli show are played by the two men who founded the company, Scimone and Sframeli, regardless of gender.

The play was presented in the original Italian with English surtitles. I’m used to reading surtitles at opera, which has always been in a large enough space that the stage and the surtitles can be easily taken in from a single perspective. Also, in the opera it takes quite a long time to sing one line of text. So adapting to follow more rapid-fire dialogue in a smaller space via surtitles was challenging. Luckily, another hallmark of Absurdism is repetition, so I do feel that anything I may have missed the first time I was able to catch the second, third or fourth time it was said.

This is also a very short play, so you won’t be kept up late, and as part of the Spotlight.Italy festival there is also live music, art installation and Italian food offered in the lobby of the theatre.

If you like Theatre Of The Absurd, this is something you should see. If you like Theatre of the Absurd and listening to men speak Italian this is definitely something you should see. While it did feel dated to me, I still quite enjoyed it.


– La Festa, by Compagnie Scimone Sframeli is playing as part of the Spotlight.Italy festival at Canadian Stage in the Berkeley Street Theatre, 26 Berkeley Street.

– Shows are March 22-24 at 8:30 pm and March 25-26 at 9:15 pm, Tickets are $22.00 to $32.00.

– Tickets are available online at or through the box office at 416.368.3110.