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Italy's Culture in Focus on 'Tosca e le altre due' Play

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From March 20 to 30, Kairos Italy Theater (KIT) and Dicapo Opera will present "Tosca e le altre due" (Tosca and The Two Downstairs), a satirical, behind-the-scenes sister-story to Puccini's "Tosca" as imagined by one of the wittiest and most admired Italian playwright and actresses, Franca Valeri. The piece is directed by Laura Caparrotti, Artistic Director of KIT, and its English translation is by Natasha Lardera. Supertitles are by the prestigious Prescott Studio in Italy. The piece will be staged at Dicapo Opera, 184 E. 76th Street, Manhattan.

Tosca
TOSCA AND THE TWO DOWNSTAIRS - Marta Mondell (L) and Laura Caparrotti (R) play women witnessing the events of the opera, "Tosca," in "Tosca and the Two Downstairs" by Italian playwright Franca Valeri . Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

The play will be acted by Laura Caparrotti and Marta Mondelli in Italian with English supertitles. KIT-Kairos Italy Theater is a rarity: a bilingual Italian-English theater company that presents Italian theatrical works of literary merit. It is named for Kairos, the Greek god of the fleeting moment. The prologue will be acted in voice over by Rocco Sisto. Set design is by Lucretia Moroni.

"Tosca" by Puccini is based on a drama by Sardou. In this well-known opera, Mario Cavarodossi, a painter who has concealed a dangerous political prisoner, is being protected by his lover, a celebrated singer named Tosca. Cavarodossi is tortured to reveal the whereabouts of the prisoner to Scarpia, the chief of police, who has promised to save the painter by a mock execution if Tosca will give herself to him. She ultimately agrees, but stabs Scarpia at the last moment. The execution is, however, a real one and in grief, Tosca leaps from a battlement to her death. The opera debuted on January 14, 1900.

"Tosca e le altre due" by Franca Valeri shares the 19th century setting and events of the opera, but refracts them through two memorable women characters who share them from the outside. The torture's screams and scuffles are overheard from upstairs by the wife of the torturer and the female doorkeeper of Palazzo Farnese in Rome, where the interrogation is taking place. The play is a wry and humorous character study of these two women, outsiders, who are accidentally close to the passions and politics of the story.

In the play, the doorkeeper's lodge of the Palazzo Farnese is dominated by Emilia, a proud Roman woman who is responsible for upholding both the house's decorum and the reputation of the powerful and wicked Baron Scarpia. She is married to Nando, the jailer of the Castel Sant'Angelo; a strong housewife who doesn't get easily upset over the constant shouting and somewhat shady affairs of the Palazzo. The politics of Rome in 1800 are important to keep in mind. Napoleon having invaded Italy, power was shifting between the old royalists (who employ Scarpia) and the young Italian revolutionaries (like Cavaradossi), who wanted Italy to become a republic along French lines. Emilia passionately supports anything Baron Scarpia must do to wield his authority.

One night, a woman named Iride sneaks into the porter's lodge. She is an actress and former prostitute from outside Milan who has come to pick up her husband, Sciarrone, the galley-sergeant and sadistic factotum of Scarpia. Sciarrone is working late at a very delicate job on the upper floor of Palazzo Farnese: he is forcefully interrogating a variety of prisoners, among whom is Cavaradossi, Tosca's lover. His techniques are cruel, but Scarpia knows that Sciarrone's methods, when applied to Cavaradossi, may be an efficient way to shock poor Tosca, whom he desires, into surrendering her body to him.

Emilia and Iride patiently wait for the end of Sciarrone's shift. With the prisoners' tortured screams in the background, the two women keep each other company. Scattered through their dialogue are inserts of the actual opera performance. In the course of the play, all the characters in "Tosca"-including Scarpia, Spoletta, Roberti and Cavaradossi-pass by and are commented on by the two women, whose conversations are a hilarious parody of common people's life. Their gossip reveals the miserable daily struggles of the poor, who must dwell among state secrets that are much larger than they are. The situation peels away to reveal a desperate women's plot. Iride is not there just to wait for her thuggish husband, but to escape from him. A dangerous plan is born free her.

Divided almost like the three acts of Tosca, "Tosca and the Two Downstairs" moves between two Roman settings, the church Sant'Andrea della Valle and the Palazzo Farnese. It starts out deceptively satirical, comical and light, then enlarges into a very profound analysis of its two characters. Emilia, although stern, conservative and protective of her position in the status quo, is revealed to be empathetic to a fault and willing to risk her life to help anyone. Iride, who had escaped a life with no "moral" pretensions, would now rather return to the streets than endure her violent, cruel husband.

The play had its debut on 1978 in Italy with Franca Valeri as Emilia and Adriana Asti as Iride. In the U.S., the play has only been presented by KIT-Kairos Italy Theater, which held a reading at Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimo' at NYU and at the Ciao Italy Festival in Brooklyn and in 2010 presented the play's American debut at the cell in Manhattan.

REVIEWS OF THE 2010 PRODUCTION

"Iride is rendered with exquisite charm by Mondelli, who is nicely balanced by Caparrotti's gruff but crafty Emilia. 'Tosca e Le Altre Due' is humorous and insightful, a novel way to comment on Puccini's examination of politics and passions. Kairos, dedicated to spreading Italian culture abroad, has achieved its aims here. The production and company are worthy of note." -Fern Siegel, Huffington Post

"A saucy little two-character Italian comedy, astutely acted by Laura Caparrotti (who also directs) and Marta Mondelli, 'Tosca e le altre due (Tosca and the Two Downstairs)' fabricates a funny, feminist-tinged side story to the famous Puccini opera....enormously appealing on many levels" -Lisa Jo Segolla, Backstage (Critic's Pick)

"The setting and costuming are aesthetically pleasing, the dynamic between the actresses is good, and the history of the play is fascinating, but most of all it is the redeeming, new permutation of Tosca that is its most unique quality....Anyone with a taste for culture will gain something from the experience of these two Italian women 'downstairs.'" - Jonathan Lim, Off-off Online

"Laura Caparrotti, who is also the producer of the play and KIT's artistic director, plays Emilia, the role created by Valeri herself. She channels Ms. Valeri's theatrics to perfection, certainly not an easy task, showing impeccable comic timing and a unique knack in delivering the snide remarks with which her part is peppered. Marta Mondelli made an utterly plausible character of Iride, a role which could lend itself to easy stereotypes. Her progress from frivolous chatterbox to anguished, desperate woman is thoroughly and painfully tangible. Particularly heartfelt was her monologue during 'Vissi d'arte.'" -Ecole Farnese, The Parterre Box

"Kairos Italy Theater's remarkable production of Tosca and the Two Downstairs thoroughly grasps the manifold meaning of the play. The spare - and yet extremely appropriate - dťcor of the set properly props the clockwork interaction between Emilia and Iride, respectively played by Laura Caparrotti (who is also the director) and Marta Mondelli. Caparrotti's skillfully unadorned and almost solemn gestures - keenly studied on the Roman popolana beyond Valeri's onw renditions - are timely matched by Mondelli's extroverted reconstruction of the Lombard starlet. The vernacular interjections peppering the characters' witty retorts might suit better the Italian speakers, but the English supertitles appropriately render the nuances of the play nonetheless. It was high time that a modern and intelligent Italian comedy like Valeri's 'Tosca and the Two Downstairs' were produced. Thanks to Laura Caparrotti for having once again done the right thing." -Andrea Malaguti, I-Italy

"This show is a great way to be introduced to, or continue to appreciate, Valeri's work." -Essence of Italy

ABOUT PLAYWRIGHT FRANCA VALERI

"Tosca and The Two Downstairs" is the first play by Franca Valeri to be produced in the U.S. Born in Milan in 1920, she is the first female comic actress and satiric playwright to enjoy steady success from the 1950s to today. Her unforgettable women characters-above all the "Signorina Snob," the satirical portrait of a rich girl from Milan-made her very popular in the 50s. During a career that now, despite the age, shows no signs of slowing down, Ms. Valeri has worked in about 53 films with the most famous Italian directors and actors such as Alberto Sordi, Vittorio De Sica, Toto', Dino Risi among many others. In addition, she has written several screenplays and plays. Ms. Valeri is also an opera connoisseur who has directed several operas and founded a competition for young opera singers. In 2014, she keeps working and writing. She is now 93 years old.

WHO'S WHO IN THE PRODUCTION

Laura Caparrotti (Emilia/director) has a Masters degree in Performing Arts, Cinema and Theatre History from the University "La Sapienza" in Rome. She also studied independently with Nobel Prize winner Dario Fo and Annie Girardot. After ten years of professional theatre in Italy, she relocated to New York, where she has directed and/or performed at The Kitchen, The Fringe Festival, The Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center, the cell, the Flea and Casa Italiana Zerilli Marimo', among other venues. She was the Assistant to the Director of the Off Broadway production of Eduardo De Filippo's "Souls of Naples" featuring John Turturro. She is the world-wide representative of the De Curtis Family, and the curator of "Excerpts of a Prince Named TotÚ," the official traveling exhibition on the Italian iconic actor TotÚ. She is also a playwright, a journalist, a teacher, a lecturer, a consultant and dialect coach for Italian ("Boardwalk Empire") a curator and a panelist for NYSCA. She is member of the Director's Lab at Lincoln Center, of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, the League of Professional Theater Women and the Founding Artistic Director of Kairos Italy Theater. In 2013, she started the In Scena! Italian Theater Festival NY, the first Italian Theater Festival to take place in all five NY Boroughs.

Marta Mondelli (Iride) was born and raised in Italy, where worked as an actress both in theater with her company ChiŤdiscena and movies (among which "Stai Con Me" with Giovanna Mezzogiorno and Adriano Giannini and "Vieni Via Con Me" with Mariangela Melato). She moved to New York in 2002 where she started a career in playwriting and screenwriting. She acts steadily with Kairos Italy Theater. Her first novel in Italian, "Occhi di cane, cuore di cervo," was published in Italy in 2011. Her first script, "Eve's Story," was finalist in the competition Screenplay Festival 2005. In 2010 she wrote and directed her first feature film, "The Contenders," which won the Aloha Accolade Award for Excellence in Filmmaking at the Honolulu International Film Festival that same year. Her third screenplay, "A Small Accident," received an Honorable Mention at the "Table Read My Screenplay" Contest during the Sundance Film Festival 2011. "The Window," her first play, had a very successful run at the Cherry Lane Theater Studio in January 2014.

Rocco Sisto (Prologue, VO) has been seen in several movies, including the cult hit "The American Astronaut," "Donnie Brasco," "Carlito's Way," "Illuminata," "Frequency" and "Lorenzo's Oil." On television, Sisto played young Junior Soprano in HBO's "The Sopranos." He has appeared in "Law and Order," "Law and Order C.S.I.," "Close to Home," "Alias," "N.Y.P.D. Blue," "J.A.G.," and "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation." In theater, he is a founding member of Shakespeare & Co. and he has often acted in the New York Shakespeare Festival at the Delacorte Theater. On Broadway and Off-Broadway, he has appeared in numerous successful plays such as "Quills," "Amadeus," "The Comedy of Errors" and "Souls of Naples." He received an OBIE for "The Winters Tale," an OBIE, a Drama Desk nomination and a Drama League Award for his role in "Quills," and an OBIE award for artistic excellence.

Natasha Lardera (Translation) has a degree in Film and Creative Writing from Emerson College and a Masters in Journalism from NYU. She is a journalist, translator, writer, critic who has been managing editor of various Italian and American publications focused on theater, cinema, food, wine, and tourism. She is also an actress and songwriter. Since 2004, she has translated for KIT and collaborated on several shows including "Accattone in Jazz," a play with Italian celebrity Valerio Mastandrea based on Pasolini's film "Accattone," which was performed at Lincoln Center. She has translated plays by Dino Buzzati and poetry by TotÚ and other Italian personalities.

Lucretia Moroni (Set Designer) was born in Milan, attended the renowned Van der Kelen School in Brussels and continued her training in interiors with the Renzo Mongiardino architecture firm in Milan. After working with Franco Zeffirelli on the sets of "La Traviata," she moved to New York City in the early 1980's. She has worked on a large number of private and public projects, including the renovation of Bethesda Fountain in Central Park and residences in Italy, South America and the U.S. Her work has been published widely in design and general magazines worldwide. In 1997, she founded Fatto a Mano, a creative workshop located in New York which designs and produces a variety of printed silk and linen fabrics, some of which will be used in the set.

Kairos Italy Theater (Producer) is the only troupe focused on bilingual (Italian and English) theater in New York. It is named for the Greek god of the fleeting moment. KIT's mission is to create a cultural exchange program between Italy, the US and the international community and to unveil artistic and creative sides of these two countries to the world. In the States, KIT is dedicated to spreading the Italian Culture and to creating an Italian Cultural Network in order to support and further increase the knowledge of Italy in the States. (www.kitheater.com)

Since its foundation in 2000 in New York City, KIT has produced more than 20 performances and events over the years, collaborating with Off-Off and Off Broadway theaters and with US Institutions such as The Kitchen, La MaMa, The Fringe Festival, the Abrons Art Center, Casa Italiana Zerilli Marimo' at NYU, Italian Academy at Columbia University, Film Society at Lincoln Center, Dahesh Museum of Art, NY Hall of Science, the Flea Theatre, Theater for the New City, Montclair State University, Suffolk County Community College, the Bernie West Theater at Baruch College, the cell theatre, the Cherry Lane Theatre, The Italian Cultural Institute in NY, LA, Chicago, San Francisco and the General Consulate of Italy among many others.

KIT specializes in bringing premieres to the US stage. Never-before-translated works before by Ennio Flaiano, Franca Valeri, Eduardo De Filippo, and Pier Paolo Pasolini have been presented to US audiences, who have grown in appreciation and in number since the first production in 1997. In May 2003, KIT inaugurated the Double Theatre Experience: one act performed first in English and then in Italian. In 2013, KIT inaugurated its In Scena! Italian Theater Festival NY, the first Italian theater festival to take place in all five boroughs.

KIT has curated several events all related to Italian Culture: "Fellini-Flaiano: a different take," "Caricatures from Tolentino," "Fellini and The Myth of I Vitelloni in Italian Cinema" in 2003. KIT is the representative of the De Curtis Family in the US and the curator of the exhibition "Excerpts from a Prince named Toto'."

KIT also organizes classes in Italian and Theatre for children and adults in NY and NJ, launched a bi-lingual online magazine Kit in the City, dedicated to cultural and every-day events in New York and Rome and recently created Teatro Italiano Network, a theatrical agency dedicated to Italian Companies and Artists.

In 2012, KIT created YoungKIT, its 'youth division' company comprised of young Italian actors studying in NYC. The goal is to educate the younger generation on the traditions of Italian theater while offering them a platform to improve their training.

This production of "Tosca e le altre due" in New York is sponsored by the Italian Cultural Institute in New York and Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimo' at NYU.

Kairos Italy Theater and Dicapo Opera (184 E 76th Street) will present "Tosca e le altre due" March 20 to 30, 2014 Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 pm, Sundays at 2:00 PM. Tickets are $35.00 for gen. adm. and $20.00 for students and seniors and can be reserved through SMARTTIX (212) 868-4444 or purchased online at www.smarttix.com.

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