Review: An Italian Christmas Carol (DopoLavoroTeatrale/Istituto Italaino di Cultura)

Photo of Marissa Zinni and Daniele Bartolini by Raylene Turner DLT presents an immersive theatrical experience for a solo audience member in Toronto

I’ll let you in on a secret … I loathe holiday-themed shows. Their cloying, artificial sentimentality is enough to make my cold, cynical heart mutter “bah humbug.” But when DLT (DopoLavoroTeatrale), the theatre company that brought us amazing, audience-specific experiences like The Stranger and The Invisible City, announced its new show, An Italian Christmas Carol—an immersive take on the Dickens story with an Italian twist—I was intrigued and overcame my antipathy toward Christmas shows to check it out. I’m so glad I did.

DLT is known for creating unique and original immersive theatre experiences sometimes performed for only one audience member at a time, as is the case for An Italian Christmas Carol (written and directed by DLT’s Artistic Director Daniele Bartolini). Their shows really blur the lines of what constitutes “theatre.”

As the lone audience member for any given performance, you can’t get away with being a passive observer. While you’re not expected to role-play or “act” per se, DLT’s shows challenge you to be a completely present, active and engaged participant in creating your own experience. It’s a slightly disorienting but deeply personal and completely exhilarating way to experience theatre.

For An Italian Christmas Carol, you’re instructed to start your experience at an undisclosed location off Bloor Street where you’re greeted by a woman (Raylene Turner) who is apparently a landlady you’ve agreed to meet for an apartment showing. As she walks you to the apartment, you learn that she plans on evicting the current tenant, a new immigrant to Canada from Italy.

Left alone to explore the place, I started rifling through the current tenant’s things. It’s amazing how much of the absent character’s narrative the space itself can convey: his old Italian movies, his pet fish, a price tag from a used bike he recently bought. I eventually found and read through his journal; a window into his feelings alternating between hope, excitement, isolation, loneliness and homesickness.

The experience of exploring this man’s life invoked a deep sense of empathy for people like the family of Syrian refugees my friends recently sponsored or even my own parents, who must have experienced similar emotions when they immigrated to Canada.

Then, as the title of the show suggests, I was visited by ghosts of sorts. I found myself as the stand-in for the tenant in his imagined homecoming with his mother (Marissa Zinni) and father (Daniele Bartolini) who guided me through a series of intimate and strange yet wonderful one-on-one, or two-on-one interactions.

One scene in particular, consisting of an intimate interaction with the mother, unearthed long forgotten memories and evoked such strong emotions it moved me to the brink of tears.

In moments like those, An Italian Christmas Carol does what the best immersive theatre shows strive to do: while placing the audience member in a fictitious scenario, the show can still evoke very real emotions.

Now, as I prepare to visit my parents over the holidays, I realize I can’t really go “home.” My parents are older now, they’ve moved out of the house I grew up in and downsized into a condo. Leaving this show, I found myself pining nostalgically for my own past.

That’s the magic of immersive theatre. Each audience member will bring their own life experiences to the show and as a result, each one will experience something unique.

While An Italian Christmas Carol didn’t inspire me to run through the streets proclaiming “Merry Christmas” like Scrooge, the beautifully and masterfully designed experience eschews the artificial sentimentality of traditional holiday shows and evokes real emotions. It’s the perfect opportunity to escape the hubbub of the holidays for an intimate and introspective experience.

Details:

  • An Italian Christmas Carol is playing at an undisclosed location in Toronto’s Bloor West area through December 22, 2017.
  • Shows run multiple times per day. Check the website for the schedule.
  • A bilingual version of the experience, in Italian and English, is available.
  • On two special performances dates a version of the experience reimagined for families (up to four people) will be available on December 9 and 16.
  • Tickets, $45.00 to $65, available online at https://www.dltexperience.com/

Photo of Marissa Zinni and Daniele Bartolini by Raylene Turner 

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