Battle of The Sexes Prevails in ‘Six Passionate Women’ By Mario Fratti

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Nino, an Italian film maker with a strong resemblance to Federico Fellini, is in an artistic crisis. Every new work is, for him, an artistic crisis. So he goes to bed with a multitude of women, seeking ideas and stimulation, feeding on them both humanly and artistically.

Nino is sexually impotent until he gets a good idea, and then he’s hellfire. But his sexual partners, all artists in their own right, are not satisfied. Rallied by a wealthy feminist American widow, they decide that to be a muse is to be exploited. So they exact revenge by making a movie of Nino’s life and fantasies, Candid Camera-Style.

Thus unfolds “Six Passionate Women” by Mario Fratti, a play inspired by the playwright’s personal acquaintance with Fellini, whom he covered closely as a journalist in the late 1950s. It combines a serious disquisition on the creative mind with recurring themes of Fratti’s plays: betrayal, jealousy and sexual politics.

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Dennis Parlato as Nino, the film maker; Donna Vivino as Valia, an actress.

Theater for the New City will present the piece October 9 to 26, 2014, directed by Stephan Morrow. Dennis Parlato, as the film maker, heads a cast of eight that is peppered with Broadway vets.

Fratti says the play is all Fellini but admits there’s a measure of autobiography “with every playwright.” Between 1957 and 1959, working as an Italian journalist, he covered Fellini’s rehearsals and observed his relationships with actors, including the palpable measure of hostility and resentment there.

From this came the idea of a revenge play, in which a group of women would rise up against a Fellini figure and his co-writer who, like the women is deserving of revenge but unable to exact it. (In Fratti’s plays, the women most often prevail in the battle of the sexes.)

Fratti later wrote one other play on Fellini-an adaptation of the film “8½” – that evolved into the Broadway musical, “Nine,” a winner of five Tony awards and eight Drama Desk awards. An interview is reproduced at http://www.jsnyc.com/season/birth_of_nine.htm in which Mario Fratti recalls the birth of “Nine” and how adding the film “Casanova” to “8½” convinced the producer to produce that Tony-sweeping musical.

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Foreground (LR): Dennis Parlato as Nino, the film maker; Kevin Sebastian as William, Nino’s screenwriter. Behind, (L-R): Donna Vivino as Valia, an actress; Coleen Sexton as Marianna, Nino’s wife; Laine Rettmer as Anna, Marianna’s best friend; Ellen Barber as Mrs. Gunmore, an American producer; Carlotta Brentan as Franca, Nino’s young secretary. Photos by Jonathan Slaff.

Fratti subtitled the “Six Passionate Women” as “a comedy about creativity and stealing.” The word “passionate,” he notes, derives from the Latin verb patire, which means to suffer. The point is strongly made that creation is always a group effort, that creativity and sexual potency are closely linked in the creative process and that Fellini’s genius was completely dependent upon preying on the women around him. Voyeurism is often a phase of the creative process, but it becomes problematic when the person playing the part of the muse asserts himself or herself as creator.

In this production, the women rise up against this type of creative misappropriation. They reverse the role of voyeur by filming Nino as they slyly interrogate him on his creative process and what it means to be temporarily impotent. As they explore his secrets and deep fantasies they become the creative force by secretly filming him. By the end of the play, the women have conquered the hapless males and celebrate their victory with a toast to feminism.

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Dennis Parlato as Nino, the film maker; Coleen Sexton as Marianna, Nino’s estranged wife.

Mario Fratti (www.mariofratti.com), a prolific playwright and drama critic, was born in Italy but has been living in New York since 1963. His plays have been performed in more that 700 theaters in 19 languages. Among his best known works are “Cage,” “Victim,” Eleonora Duse,” “Mafia,” “Return,” Academy,” “Lovers,” “Sister,” “Che Guevara,” “Bridge,” “Porno,” “Six Passionate Women,” “A.I.D.S.,” “Seducers” and “Madame Senator.” His book, “28 Unpredictable Plays by Mario Fratti,” has been published by New York Theatre Experience.

His first 20 plays were written in Italian. The next 71 were written in English. Fratti says, “I prefer the English language in theater because it is monosyllabic and it is a powerful language for the stage.”

He enjoys working at Theater for the New City with producer/artist/director Crystal Field “because she does not know the word censorship. She always allows my approach to political dramas.” It’s an interesting historical footnote that Fratti’s “Chile ’73” was TNC’s first international production when it was presented in 1974 at the Parma International Theater Festival. He also instigated a theater exchange between Theater for the New City and La Piccola Brigata of L’Aquila-his home town-in the 1988-1989 theater season.

Fratti’s recent Theater for the New City productions include “Trio” (2010), “Quartet” (2011), the double-bill of “Three Sisters and a Priest” and “Suicide Club” (2012) and “The Vatican Knows (about the kidnapping of that young woman)” (2013). All four productions were directed by Stephan Morrow.

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Foreground: Ellen Barber as Mrs. Gunmore, an American producer. Behind, (LR): Coleen Sexton as Marianna, Nino’s wife; Laine Rettmer as Anna, Marianna’s best friend; Donna Vivino as Valia, an actress.

Morrow describes “Six Passionate Women” as falling into the madcap tradition of “The Producers,” with comedy of manners added. He quips, “The women of this play remind me of ‘Les Liasons Dangereuses.” They are all going for the jugular – they are the new aristocracy – but without the shadow of the guillotine in the background.

Morrow has helmed, among many others, “Triangle – The Shirtwaist Triangle Factory Fire” by J. Gilhooley at 59E59St Theaters, staged readings of Murray Schisgal plays at The Actor’s Studio and TNC, and “Dogmouth” by John Steppling at TNC. After working on two plays and a film with Norman Mailer, in 2007 they reunited when Morrow acted in and directed Mailer’s play, “The Deer Park – Hollywood goes to Hell.”

Morrow was mentored into the Playwright Directing Unit of the Actor’s Studio by Elia Kazan. He recently completed filming “Dogmouth” and it will soon be featured in a public screening at the Hellenic Festival. Following “Six Passionate Women,” he will direct “Woman in a Chador” by Claudio Angelini, which TNC will present beginning November 6. He is the Artistic Director of The Great American Play Series, which presents ‘performances on book’ of neglected American classics featuring prominent actors.

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Foreground: Dennis Parlato as Nino, the film maker; Behind: Kevin Sebastian as William, Nino’s exploited screenwriter, who is deserving of revenge but unable to exact it.

Dennis Parlato heads the cast as Nino. He has appeared on Broadway in “A Chorus Line,” “Chess,” “Sound of Music” and “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.” He was in the national tours of “The Graduate” and “Annie” and has appeared widely in regional theater. He is also well-known for his long-running roles on TV’s “One Life to Live,” “The Guiding Light,” “Santa Barbara” and “Loving.”

The passionate women are played by Donna Vivino (Broadway’s “Les Miserables,” national tours of “Wicked” and “Hairspray”), Ellen Barber (Broadway’s “Fame” and films “Nine 1/2 Weeks,” “Apology” and “Dealing: Or the Berkeley-to-Boston Forty-Brick Lost-Bag Blues”), Colleen Sexton (Broadway’s “Jekyll and Hyde,” national tours of “Legally Blonde,” “Wicked” and “Chicago”), Line Rettmer, Carlotta Brentan and Giulia Bisinella. The co-writer is played by Kevin Sebastian.

Set design is by Mark Marcante. Lighting design is by Alexander Bartenieff. Costume design is by Susan Hemley.

“Six Passionate Women” will be presented by the Theater for the New City, 155 Ave., October 9 to 26, 2014. Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 PM and Sundays at 3:00 PM.

General admission is $12 and seniors and students are $10. The

box office is (212) 254-1109 and www.theaterforthenewcity.net.

Jonathan Slaff is a New York publicist in the specialty of international cultural events. Jonathan and his writers keep us ahead of the curve in the world of the arts and culture.