La Mama Presents World Premiere of ‘Hamlet Hallucinations’

Italy’s Dario D’Ambrosi is a radical innovator of the theater and founder of the movement called Teatro Patologico (Pathological Theater). Having staged revolutionary interpretations of “Richard III” in 1996 and “Romeo and Juliet” in 2009, he is now taking on “Hamlet” with a new full-length work, “Hamlet Hallucinations.” La MaMa E.T.C., D’Ambrosi’s theatrical home in the USA, will present the work’s world premiere October 17 to November 3. Performed entirely in English, with a script that includes selections of the Bard’s soliloquies, the play is set in the graveyard and essentially presents the story from the viewpoint of the gravedigger, who is played by D’Ambrosi. The cast also includes two bilingual Italian actors. The Prince of Denmark is played by Giacomo Rocchini. Hamlet’s hallucinations, including the characters of his father, his mother, King Claudius and Ophelia, are played by Mauro F. Cardinali.

The theater of Dario D’Ambrosi often interprets epic and classical themes through the prism of mental illness. In his “A Kingdom for My Horse (Un regno per il mio cavallo)” (1996), he modeled the character of Richard III on both classical and modern theories of schizophrenia and made the famous Shakespearean monologue in which Richard doubts himself into the internal dialogue of a schizophrenic. Corriere Della Sera wrote, “the aim is to understand characters such as Richard III or Hitler, Mussolini or Nero, who when they are influenced by their irrational drives, can acquire pathological behaviors.” D’Ambrosi’s 15-minute “Romeo and Juliet” (2009) reflected the “schizophrenia of the world” through a distillation of Shakespeare’s classic that contrasted the marvel of love with the fragility of life and the shock of the moment of total loss.

Hamlet Hallucinations
(Below) Giacomo Rocchini as Hamlet; (top left) Mauro F. Cardinali as Hamlet’s hallucinations; (top right) Dario D’Ambrosi as the Mortician. Photo by Anastasiya Khranovska

In this new re-envisioning of “Hamlet,” D’Ambrosi makes the Prince into a young, insecure, childish man who emerges from a grave where he has been buried in a pile of skulls, companions of his past. The script, purged of the political references of the original, focuses on his obsessions, phobias, Oedipal complexes and misogyny. In Part 1, Hamlet (played by Giacomo Rocchini) is crystallized in an eternal rehearsal of his tragedy, having completely lost his sense of self. He hears the voices and experiences the discontinuous thoughts and catatony of a schizophrenic. His text includes big slices of the monologues, but has its meter broken and sometimes brutalized by direct, immediate, raving language. Another character (played by Mauro F. Cardinali) keeps changing his physiognomy to embody all the characters in Hamlet’s story, including Ophelia and Hamlet’s father, mother and uncle. The audience is kept guessing about which character is hallucinating.

In Part 2, Hamlet encounters the Cemetery’s Mortician (Dario D’Ambrosi), who confronts him over his treatment of Ophelia. The Mortician seems like a sufferer of OCD, a pathological behavior that involves keeping everything tightly in its place. We are not clear if we are witnessing Hamlet’s hallucination or the Mortician’s. The Mortician waxes eloquent about growing tomatoes in the cemetery; it’s meant to be seen as a “good” craziness that’s a counterpoint to Hamlet’s “bad” craziness. The themes are the hallucinatory nature of modernity and the evasive strength of folly.

The production has original music by Francesco Santalucia, lead vocals recorded by Salvo Disca, scenic design by Luisa Viglietti and costume design by Deniele Gelsi and Raffaela Toni. Lighting design is by Danilo Facco. Assistant director is Alessandro Corazzi. Assistant producer is Fiorenza Sammartino.

Giacomo Rocchini (Hamlet) is an actor and director from Florence who earned a BFA in Acting from Pace University in 2012. In New York, he has created a series of four interactive plays, among these “In Vino Veritas,” which debuted in The Club at La MaMa in 2011. He is an actor and dancer in the La MaMa resident company Pioneers Go East. He played Romeo in D’Ambrosi’s “Romeo and Juliet” in the Pathological Theater Festival at La MaMa in 2011.

Mauro F. Cardinali (Ophelia, Gertrude, Claudius, King’s Ghost) is an actor and dancer from Assisi, in Umbria. He played Jason in D’Ambrosi’s “Mhdeia” in London last year and collaborates with D’Ambrosi in Teatro Patologico in Rome and its school for people with mental disabilities there.

Luisa Viglietti (scenic designer) began her career in 1987 as exclusive costume designer and stage manager for the famous Italian actor, director and theater innovator Carmelo Bene. As an artistic consultant and assistant costume designer for the Costume Shop G.P.11, she works steadily with such well known directors as Lina Wertmuller, Marco Ferreri, Roberto De Simone and Luca Ronconi.


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. His plays investigate mental illness by grasping its vital artistic and creative aspects with the intention of restoring the “dignity of the fool.”

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(Below) Giacomo Rocchini as Hamlet; (top left) Mauro F. Cardinali as Hamlet’s hallucinations; (top right) Dario D’Ambrosi as the Mortician. Photo by Anastasiya Khranovska

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 (the equivalent of the TONY Award in this country). D’Ambrosi first performed at La MaMa in 1980 and has been in residence there nearly every year thereafter. He has written and directed over 14 plays, acted in 18 major films and TV movies, and written and directed three full-length films. Thirteen of his plays have had their American premieres at La MaMa. 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 has had a theater named Teatro al Parco in Rome, located in a children’s psychiatric hospital. He formed the Gruppo Teatrale Dario D’Ambrosi in Italy in 1979. Twenty years later, D’Ambrosi opened a new theater in a converted warehouse in a northern section of Rome. Originally named The Pathological Theater, now called Teatro Internazionale di Roma, it is home to his resident company of professional actors and a drama school for psychiatric patients. It was described in The New York Times (by Gaia Pianigiani, June 2, 2010) as Europe’s first drama school for people with disabilities, who create original works of theater there as actors, designers and playwrights. Fifteen teaching artists instruct sixty students, including people of all ages who are schizophrenic, catatonic, manic depressive, autistic, and born with Down Syndrome. Many of these, the article relates, have broken through their isolation, found self-knowledge and made themselves understood through theater.

D’Ambrosi speaks excitedly about the theatrical possibilities of these newly-minted theater artists, whose purity of vision and unencumbered passion make their work fantastically original, inspiring and well beyond the artistic reach of conventional theater.

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.”

Mr. D’Ambrosi also sustains a prolific acting career. He played the Clown in Julie Taymor’s film version of “Titus Andronicus” (1999) with Anthony Hopkins and Jessica Lange. He is director and co-author of “The Buzzing of Flies” (2003), a Hera International film produced by Gianfranco Piccioli, with Lorenzo Alessandri and Greta Schacchi (the latter co-starred with Harrison Ford in “Presumed Innocent”). In 2000 he appeared in the Italian thriller “Almost Blue” and in 2005, he was seen in “Ballet of War,” a film about the clandestine immigration of Albanian people into Italy. But his most well known film appearance may be as the Roman Soldier who mercilessly whipped Jesus in Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.” The villainous part caused strangers to glare at him scornfully on the streets of Rome while the film was playing. Zachary Pincus-Roth, writing in the New York Times, reported that Mr. D’Ambrosio says he still has dreams in which Jesus – with the face of Mel Gibson – assures him that it was all worth it. The entire experience ultimately inspired him to create “The Pathological Passion of the Christ” (La MaMa, 2004 and film version, 2005), which was based on the idea that many of Jesus’ contemporaries considered him insane.

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. In 2011, he staged his second such festival, which included performances of three past plays and the world premiere of “Mhdeia,” an adaptation of Euripides’ “Medea,” with Celeste Moratti (Italy-New York) as the title character and a chorus of ten actors from D’Ambrosi’s Teatro Internazionale di Roma, where people with diverseabilities (including epilepsy, neurological disabilities and down syndrome) not only act in plays, but also write them and design them. The festival also included screenings of three full length films by D’Ambrosi. “Mhdeia” was presented at Wilton’s Music Hall in London in 2012 and will be honored September 20 with a “Best Foreign Show” award.

D’Ambrosi will teach a master class at Sapienza University in Rome on September 23, 2014.

“Hamlet Hallucinations” is presented by La MaMa E.T.C. The show will take place on October 17 to November 3, 2013 Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 PM, Sundays at 2:30 PM at La MaMa E.T.C. (First Floor Theater) 74A East Fourth Street. The tickets are $18 general admission, $13 seniors and students. TDF accepted. To purchase tickets, please call Box office at (212) 475-7710 or visit the website at