In honor of La MaMa’s 50th Anniversary season, Italy’s Dario D’Ambrosi will stage “Teatro Patologico in New York,” a festival of Pathological Theater and Film, December 15 to 22, 2011, mounting one large new work plus three smaller plays that are a cross-section of his 31 years of productions at La MaMa. D’Ambrosi has written, directed and produced three full-length films to-date and all three will be screened in the festival.
Dario D’Ambrosi is a former professional soccer player, one of Italy’s leading performance artists and originator of the theatrical movement called teatro patologico. A recipient of a lifetime achievement award from the Instituto del Drama Italiano (equivalent of a Tony Award in his country), he has written and directed over 13 plays, acted in 18 major films and TV movies, and written and directed three full-length films. Twelve of his plays have had their American premieres at La MaMa.
The Festival’s featured event is the American premiere of “Mhdeia” (Medea), D’Ambrosi’s adaptation of Euripides’ “Medea” (December 15-18), with Celeste Moratti (Italy-New York) as the title character, Duane Allen (NYC) as Jason, Giovanni Calcagno (Italy) as Creon and Roberta Guerrera (Italy) as Aegeus. The chorus will be ten actors from D’Ambrosi’s Teatro Internazionale di Roma, where people with diverseabilities (including epilepsy, neurological disabilties and down syndrome) not only act in plays, but also write them and design them. Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 PM and Sunday at 2:30 PM. Tickets are $25.
Each successive evening will feature a significant play from D’Ambrosi’s body of work, after which the audience will be invited to stay for one of D’Ambrosi’s films. The Ellen Stewart Theatre will be quickly transformed into a screening room for the films, recalling La MaMa’s 2003 sneak peek of D’Ambrosi’s first film, “Flies Buzzing” (Il ronzio delle mosche).
On Tuesday, December 20 at 7:30 PM, D’Ambrosi will perform his “Tutti non ci sono” (We Are Not Alone, 1980), his first play in New York. The audience will be invited to stay for a “sneak peek” at D’Ambrosi’s newest film, “L’uomo Gallo” (2010), adapted from his play, “Days of Antonio” (1981, 2007). The play is $15 and the screening is free.
On Wednesday, December 21 at 7:30 PM, D’Ambrosi will recreate “Frustra-Azioni” (Frustration, 1990), his solo show about a butcher with a psychotic obsession for meat, followed by a screening of “Il Ronzio Delle Mosche” (The Buzzing of Flies, 2003), the first film he directed, based on his play of the same name. The play is $15 and the screening is free.
On Thursday, December 22 at 7:30 PM, D’Ambrosi’s ten-minute “Romeo and Juliet” (2009) will be performed by its original cast. The play is a distillation of Shakespeare’s classic that contrasts the marvel of love with the fragility of life, the shock of the moment of total loss, and what D’Ambroisi calls the “schizophrenia of the world.” It will be followed by “I.N.R.I.” (2005), D’Ambrosi’s film adaptation of his play, “The Pathological Passion of the Christ” (2004), in which the sacrifice of Jesus is compared, metaphorically, to the forcible lobotomies of epileptics, an ordeal that was once widespread in Italy. The evening will end with a conference moderated by Prof. Riccardo Viale, Director of Italian Cultural Institute of New York. The play and screening together are $15; the conference is free.
All the plays will be performed in English but the Chorus of “Medea” speaks in Ancient Greek. The films are in Italian with English subtitles.
W E E K O N E
December 15-18: “Mhdeia” (Medea)
The Medea of Euripides, adapted and directed byDario D’Ambrosi
Ellen Stewart Theatre at La MaMa, 66 E. 4th Street (2 fl)
Thur-Sat at 7:30 PM, Sun at 2:30 PM, $25
Box office (212) 475-7710, www.lamama.org
Runs 1:25. Critics are invited to all performances.
“Mhdeia” is Euripides’ “Medea,” adapted and directed by Dario D’Ambrosi. The production will rehearse in Rome beginning November 16 and play there December 1-4. The American Premiere will be presented by La MaMa December 15-18. Production features Celeste Moratti (Italy-New York) as the title character, Duane Allen (NYC) as Jason, Giovanni Calcagno (Italy) as Creon and Roberta Guerrera (Italy) as Aegeus. The chorus will be ten actors from “La Magia del teatro” (The Magic of Theater), a program of D’Ambrosi’s Teatro Internazionale di Roma, where people with diverseabilities (including epilepsy, neurological disabilties and down syndrome) not only act in plays, but also write them and design them. They are: Beatrice Agostini, Stefamo Nicolo’ Amati, Bruco Bonnani, Simone Cianfa, Fabio De Persio, Andrea Di Niscia, Andrea Federico, Paolo Giliberti, Giuseppe Pacioni and Claudio Salvatore.
This adaptation focuses on the relationship between language and the human body: the body itself becomes language and a means of communication thanks to, among other things, a live musical score. The original Attic Greek becomes a key textural element. The principals speak in English and the chorus performs in Attic Greek (the product of an intense collaboration with language historians and philologists in Rome).
D’Ambrosi writes in his director’s notes, “You are about to witness something that looks like a ‘regular’ show, with actors moving, acting, speaking and trying to achieve a structured movement pattern while wrapped in costumes designed to fit their bodies. But the truth, what you are about to see is anything but a ‘normal’ show. Some of these actors, before this experience, weren’t able to talk; some of them were deathly afraid to walk up a flight of stairs; some have been harming themselves for years. Seeing their progress is what gave us the strength and the enthusiasm to push forward. When their parents thanked us because they could finally sleep at night, after many years, thanks to this theater training and to the newfound serenity it brought their kids, we knew that our apparently impossible work had finally paid off.
“Going to theater conventions all over the world, we’d heard that artists such as Peter Brook, Bob Wilson and Pina Bausch brought new languages to the stage in the seventies and eighties and that nothing new can be really achieved after them in terms of theatrical expression. I don’t agree. Working with actors with mental disabilities brings us to a new form of theatrical language. Only they have the key to it, only they can unlock and dictate new guidelines for the future of the theater. That is because their presence on the stage is intentionally ‘anti-theatrical.’ We could expect anything to happen: they could leave the set at any moment or end the show before its conclusion.
“This new way of being on a stage, which for me is the healthiest possible, mirrors the sheer terror every human being feels at any time anywhere in the world. I don’t know if any of my actors will actually leave the scene without warning, but then nobody will ever know. What you’re about to see is absolutely truthful and unique. Each night will be an absolute surprise both for my ‘patient-actors’ and for the audience. It is a unique experience that will bring you close to true theatre, the Theatre of Emotion.”
Music is by Papaceccio-Francesco Santalucia. Transliteration, revision and consultation on the Ancient Greek text is by Silvia Buffo. English translation is by Celeste Moratti. Choreography is by Marta Deioanna. Assistant Director is Alessandro Corazzi. Lighting design is by Danilo Facco. Costume design is by Giuseppe Avallone. Assistant Costume Designer is Cristina De Rold. Second Assistant to Costume Designer is Marta Severini.
W E E K T W O
Tuesday, December 20 at 7:30 PM
Play, “Tutti non ci sono” (We Are Not Alone) and film, “L’uomo Gallo” (Days of Antonio)
Ellen Stewart Theatre at La MaMa, 66 E. 4th Street (2 fl)
Play is $15 or Festival Pass; audience is invited to remain for private free screening of the film.
Box office (212) 475-7710, www.lamama.org
“Tutti Non Ci Sono” (We Are Not Alone, 1980, 1989) was D’Ambrosi’s American debut piece when first presented by La MaMa in 1980. It is a solo performance in which an inmate from a psychiatric ward is victimized by neglect in the outside world. The play was written in reaction to an Italian law, passed in 1978, which changed the Italian approach to mental institutions. At that time, inmates released from psychiatric wards had nowhere to turn and became helpless, homeless people living in the streets. D’Ambrosi, survivor of a rough, difficult boyhood in working-class Naples, began working with young (and less young) mental patients, seeking to find out what the violence of some of his buddies – the paranoia and schizophrenia of the streets – was all about. To this end, the rugged 20-year-old soccer player (he had played four years for the Milan team) set himself to some months of watching and learning into Rome’s Santa Maria de la Pieta psychiatric clinic. From that experience was born what Jerry Tallmer, writing in The New York Theatre Wire, called ” the marriage of theater with pathology” – a concept for theater that is highly metaphoric, ironic and comic as well as tragic.
David Kaufman (Downtown), reviewing the work in a 1989 revival, wrote, “The risks he takes…are even more dangerous for him than for us. By stretching the more customary theatrical boundaries, D’Ambrosi’s post-lobotomy denouement becomes that more effective.” Theater Week (Laszlo Szekrenyi) wrote, “He is furtive at some times and other times very funny. Every so often his character, who clearly in incapable of finding his way in the ‘normal world,’ listens to the ‘buzzing’ in his ears and other voices that I (as the audience) never hear….During the performance, he is constantly interacting with the audience, talking to them, asking them for money, curious to know why they feel obligated to pretend that the secret birdcage he asked them to watch is filled with birds.” (runs :50)
Toward the beginning of the twentieth century, a handicapped child named Antonio was born in Varedo, near Milan. Growing up, he was unable to stand because his legs were different lengths. He was also mentally retarded, so to avoid problems and embarrassment, his parents, uneducated poor peasants, shut him up in the henhouse with the chickens.
Over the years, Antonio began to imitate in every respect his companions in prison: clucking and pecking at food. His coop became a public attraction until a prostitute tried to have sexual intercourse with the young Antonio, which started a scandal. The young man was imprisoned in a mental hospital and died at age19 of pulmonary emphysema a few days after finding out that he was not a rooster. D’Ambrosi found this incredible story documented in the archives of the Paolo Pini hospital in Milan. From this source came the play, “Days of Antonio.”
The film transports the play’s characters from 1920’s Varedo to 1970’s Girifalco, Calabria: home of a massive psychiatric facility and filled with the colors, sounds and characters unique to its region. The charm of the Calabrian landscapes and the humanity of its impoverished inhabitants enrich the story.
“L’uomo Gallo” begins when the unfortunate young man is taken to the psychiatric hospital, where he naturally discovers a hard truth : he is not an animal and at the same time, he is not able to remake his life. Antonio is thrust into a strange, desperate universe of funny characters and marginalized groups, each with psychotic symptoms but also a huge amount of heart. Antonio achieves a particularly intense friendship with his roommate, Giacomo, who is manic about order and cleanliness. Between them blossoms a relationship made up of silences and small gestures of solidarity. They, like their fellow patients (to whom they are rebelliously uplifting), must adapt to life under the care of a nurse and a doctor whose icy and authoritarian ways hide deep imbalances that are more serious and dangerous than that those experienced by their patients.
With: Celeste Moratti (as Antonio), Dario D’Ambrosi (as Giacomo) and a cast of ten. Screenplay and direction: Dario D’Ambrosi, director of photography: Andrea Locatelli, editor: Gino Bartolini, music: Papaceccio – Francesco Santalucia, assistant director: Alessandro Corazzi. Produced by A. T. P., distributed by MEDIAPLEX ITALIA. (80 minutes)
Play, “Frustra-Azioni” (Frustration, 1990) and film, “Il Ronzio Delle Mosche” (The Buzzing of Flies, 2003)
Ellen Stewart Theatre at La MaMa, 66 E. 4th Street (2 fl)
Play and film together: $15 or Festival Pass.
Box office (212) 475-7710, www.lamama.org
“Frustra-Azioni” (Frustration, 1994) is based on a true story from 1920 and depicts the obsessed schizophrenic personality of a butcher who imagines himself a male cow, wears a minotaur mask, and pursues offbeat bovine erotic fantasies. The New York Times (Ben Brantley) called it “a lyrical, lubricious and startlingly empathetic monologue,” adding that D’Ambrosi “uses his full voice and body to give full physical life to a divided self” and “ushers his audience into an interior world of dementia that allows little room for detachment.” Theater Week (Rosette Lamont) opined, “D’Ambrosi’s sketch is a paean to the beauty of being alive, even when, as the animals, we wait patiently for our end. We, the kings of creation, who take the animal world as our own possession, we are condemned as well.” (Runs :50)
Thursday, December 22 at 7:30 PM,
Play, “Romeo and Juliet” (2009), film, “I.N.R.I.” (2004) and Conference moderated by Prof. Riccardo Viale, Director of Italian Cultural Institute, NYC (Ellen Stewart Theatre at La MaMa, 66 E. 4th Street (2 fl)
Play and film together: $15 or Festival Pass; Conference is free. Box office (212) 475-7710, www.lamama.org
“Romeo and Juliet” (2009) is a distillation of Shakespeare’s classic that contrasts the marvel of love with the fragility of life, the shock of the moment of total loss, and what D’Ambrosi calls the “schizophrenia of the world.” The beautiful sensuality and emotion of love is compressed into a magic moment. “It’s like the magic moment when somebody shoots you,” he says. “There is no emotion like that moment.” The action is primarily physical but where there is dialogue, it is in English. To say more is be to give away this radical, Artaudian, innovative production’s dramatic surprises. (Runs 10 minutes)
Both the play and film are Pirandellian in style. Jesus and six other characters take stage in a theater where he is struggling to put on The Last Supper as a play. A series of confrontations ensue in which the play is obstructed; both Christ and the playwright, D’Ambrosi, are critiqued and confronted by the other characters. These include the Apostle Peter, Satan (represented by the theater’s cleaning lady), Caiaphus (the Jewish High Priest in the Gospels, here a middlebrow and a scold), Pilate (a hoodlum who has been gelded in jail), Judas (a sexual compulsive) and Mary (portrayed as a universal mother of the handicapped). (Runs 1:30)
The evening will end with a Conference moderated by Prof. Riccardo Viale, Director of Italian Cultural Institute of New York.
ABOUT DARIO D’AMBROSI
The NY Times’ D.J.R. Bruckner wrote, “Any piece by Mr. D’Ambrosi is about each member of the audience. A viewer who surrenders disbelief for a moment will be carried away in an unimaginable world of chaos, wit, bewilderment, mirth, anger, disgust and a kind of sweet sadness, and will leave it with a sense of relief and loss.” In the ’80s and ’90s, D’Ambrosi marched irresistibly into the forefront of Italy’s theatrical ambassadors, a cohort led by Pirandello, DiFilippo and Dario Fo. In 1994, he received the equivalent of a Tony Award in his country: a prize for lifetime achievement in the theater from the Instituto del Drama Italiano. D’Ambrosi first performed at La MaMa in 1980 and has been in residence there nearly every year thereafter. In the US, he has also performed at Lincoln Center, Chicago’s Organic Theatre, Cleveland’s Public Theater and Los Angeles’ Stages Theatre, among others.
Rosette Lamont wrote in Theater Week, “The yearly appearance of the Italian writer/performer Dario D’Ambrosi at La MaMa is cause for celebration.” In a definitive essay, she traced D’Ambrosi’s aesthetic to his close study of Antonin Artaud and Georges Bataille. Critic Randy Gener, writing in The New York Theatre Wire, stated “his theater is a form of social realism that is also an idee fixe. With unusual openness and frankness, his theatrical aesthetic openly embraces the extremity of their forms, emotions and ideas, and it is, thus, called teatro patologico.”
D’Ambrosi’s first international “Pathological Theater Festival” was held in 1988 in a mental hospital in Rome. The audience, he says, was made up of people who were normal and people who were sick, and you couldn’t tell which were which. He also organized an acting unit in an adolescent ward and helped them put on a play, but unlike the Marquis de Sade in Peter Weiss’ “Marat/Sade,” D’Ambrosi did not invite anybody “normal” to watch. Subsequent festivals of this type have been open to the public and have helped raise money to help Italy’s growing population of mental patients who have been “released” from institutions.
D’Ambrosi’s La MaMa productions include a wide variety of notable works. “Cose Da Pazzi (Mad Things Out of This World)” (1995) was a play on useless technical theories of the psychiatrists and the deep state of alienation in which the psychiatric patient lives. “La Trota (The Trout)” had its American premiere at La MaMa in 1986 and was revived in 1997. In this play an old man, trapped by his fetishist acts, turns the trout he has purchased for dinner into a love symbol and the object of an inevitably doomed passion for life. “My Kingdom for a Horse (Un rengo per il mio cavallo)” (1996) was inspired by “Richard III.” D’Ambrosi portrayed Shakespeare’s villain as a schizophrenic fetus trapped in internal dialogue with his unloving mother. Ben Brantley (New York Times) hailed the production as a remarkable interpretation that “taps right into primal terrain most of us avoid exploring.”
In 1998, D’Ambrosi adapted the Peter Pan story into “The Dis-Adventures of Peter Pan vs. Capitan Maledetto” which critic Randy Gener, writing in The New York Theatre Wire, called “the most utterly charming of D’Ambrosi’s allegorical explorations of the irrational,” warning “You’d be a fool to miss it.” In 2000, D’Ambrosi celebrated 20 years of productions at La MaMa with a serial retrospective with three of his most singular plays: “All Are Not Here (Tutti Non Ci Sonno)” (1980, 1989), a solo performance in which an inmate from a psychiatric ward is victimized by neglect in the outside world, “Frustration (Frustra-Azioni)” (1994), a play on a butcher’s psychotic obsessions, and “The Prince of Madness” (1993), a story of a crippled man selling human beings who in the end are revealed to be his family. “Nemico Mio” (1988, revived 2003) was a maverick Vladimir-and-Estragon-type play in which two inmates of a psychiatric hospital, one speaking and one mute, engage in elaborate, poetic fantasies of being at the beach.
In December, 2007, he revived his “Days of Antonio” (originally performed at La MaMa in 1981), a play based on the real incident of an insane boy who had been raised in a henhouse. Celeste Moratti starred in that play and in its subsequent film rendition, which was completed in Italy in 2010. The New York Times (Jason Zinoman) credited her with “a boldly feral performance of a boy stuck between the worlds of the sane and the mentally ill and the human and the animal.”
In July 2009, D’Ambrosi created an original genre of live performance called “The Drive-In Stage” and inaugurated it an hour-long thriller, “Night Lights,” which was a site-specific performance on the block between Washington Street between Spring Street and Canal Street in SoHo. The play portrayed a precarious liaison between a female university professor and a male ex-convict in a city street. The audience of 40 viewed the live action from within parked cars, listening with headsets.
In December 2009 at La Ma, he staged a novel version of “Romeo and Juliet” which portrayed the marvel of love with the fragility of life, the shock of the moment of total loss and what he calls a “schizophrenia of the world” with innovative and shocking stage effects. In 2010, he staged his first puppet play, “Bong Bong Bong against the Walls, Ting Ting Ting in our Heads,” as the opening production of “La MaMa Puppet Series IV-Built to Perform.” The piece was a playful work about genius and love in children living in mental institutions, featuring set and life-sized puppets by Italian stage designer Aurora Buzzetti and an American cast of five.
In 2000, D’Ambrosi staged his first Pathologic Theater Festival at La MaMa, offering four plays and three screenings. This year’s festival offers more significant selections, reflecting D’Ambrosi’s upgrading of early works and his development of major pieces over the past eleven years.