‘Tosca e le altre due’ (Tosca and the Two Downstairs) by Franca Valeri

Marta Mondell (L) and Laura Caparrotti (R) play women witnessing the events of the opera, Tosca, in the US premiere of a dark comedy 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. This year is the 110th anniversary of the opera, which 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 but ugly, 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 been presented by KIT-Kairos Italy Theater in the form of a reading at Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimo’ at NYU and at the Ciao Italy Festival in Brooklyn.

This is the first U.S. production of a play by Franca Valeri. 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 2010, she will debut in a brand new show and celebrate her 90th birthday.

Laura Caparrotti (Emilia) has a degree in Performing Arts and Cinema from the University “La Sapienza” in Rome. She studied with Nobel Prize Dario Fo, French legend Annie Girardot and others. After years of professional theater in Italy, she relocated to New York, where she has directed and/or performed in venues such as The Kitchen, The Fringe Festival, the Abrons Arts Center, the Bernie West Theatre, Casa Italiana Zerilli Marimo’, the Center for Jewish History and the Lincoln Center. Off Broadway, she has been Assistant to the Director in “Souls of Naples” featuring John Turturro. She is also the worldwide representative for the Italian icon, Antonio De Curtis-Toto as well as a playwright, a journalist, an Italian and Theater teacher, a lecturer, a consultant, a curator and a panelist for NYSCA. She is the Artistic Director of KIT-Kairos Italy Theater.

Marta Mondelli (Iride) earned degrees in Ancient History at the University of Bologna and in Acting at the European Theater School of Bologna. In Italy, she has appeared in several productions of her theater company, Chiediscena, and in movies such as “Stai con me” with Giovanna Mezzogiorno. In New York, she has been performing in independent movies such as “Crossing” with Anthony Mackie, and “The Groomsmen” with Brittany Murphy and Ed Burns. In theater, she had leading roles in several Off-off Broadway productions and in the Off-Broadway show, “Box of Fools.” She studies acting with Susan Batson, writes for the Huffington Post and her feature film debut as writer/director, “The Contenders” is currently touring international film festivals. She has been part of KIT since 2004.

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 has received an OBIE for “The Winters Tale” and an OBIE, a Drama Desk nomination and a Drama League Award for his role in “Quills.”

Natasha Lardera (Translation) has a degree in Film and Creative Writing from Emerson College and a Master 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 Toto 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. (www.fatto-a-mano.com)

Kairos Italy Theater (KIT) 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, 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)

Its productions include the multi-media performance “Black Paintings,” the dance-theater piece “Necklaces,” “Cabaret s’Il vous plait!” (a collection of famous Italian comic sketches), “Una conversazione continuamente interrotta ” by Ennio Flaiano, “ABC L’Italiano S’Impara Cosi’,” “A Roman Tour,” “How Bread met the Rolling Pin” all by Laura Caparrotti and the US premiere of “Philosophically Speaking” by Eduardo De Filippo. KIT organized series such as “Fellini-Flaiano: a different take,” “Caricatures from Tolentino,” “Fellini and The Myth of I Vitelloni in Italian Cinema,” featuring the exhibition “Fellini and the Sixth Vitellone” curated by the Cineteca di Bologna. KIT has created a series called Double Theatre, with one act performed in English followed by its original Italian version. Double theater titles are “Alessia” by Mario Fratti and the US Premiere of “The Papaleo Case” by Ennio Flaiano. KIT Inc. is also responsible for the traveling exhibition and series on Italian Icon Toto, “Excerpts of a Prince named-Toto.” In the last few years, KIT has started classes of Italian and Theatre for children in the Tri-state area, the magazine on-line Kitinthecity.com, and the Literary Salon KITCAFFE focused on Italian writers. In 2010, KIT will inaugurated “KIT project: Italian theater in translation” in collaboration with the Flea Theater.

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. Special thanks to the Baroness Mariuccia Zerilli-Marimo’.

The Cell is located at 338 W 23rd Street in Manhattan, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues. Show times for “Tosca e le altre due” are: First week: Wed – Sat at 8:00 pm, Sat and Sun at 3:00 PM; second week: Fri – Sat at 8:00 PM, Sat and Sun at 3:00 PM; third week: Wed – Sat at 8:00 PM, Sat and Sun at 3:00 PM. Tickets are $20 and $15 for students and seniors. Tickets can be purchased by calling (800) 838-3006 or online at www.brownpapertickets.com.