ITALIA: June 22, 2007

Here’s where we went wrong, yesterday: When in Italy, you need to have desires, or goals. It is a land of great passion, desire and appetite. HOWEVER, no desire should ever, EVER take greater priority over your next cup of coffee.

Which is to say, listen to yourself and go with it. Don’t make yourself dopey by foregoing a good meal in order to get in the car to Florence quicker. You’ll only end up settling for roadside food and a caffeine insufficiency too late to really turn things around for you. Today we took this lesson to heart. First of all, our adventures of the previous day and the lateness of the hour of our return permitted us to sleep in quite a bit. I myself slept until 12:30, a normally unheard-of feat. When we were all up, the priority was a good meal. We knew we had the show in Pitigliano to attend later this night, so felt justified in moving at a simple pace and structuring things around when we accomplished them. This is why Italians are always late, and rarely frustrated.

So we had a nice lunch, and planned to visit our favorite little store in Orvieto for groceries and a visit with its proprietor, Vera. Doing this with no particular rush, we found we had plenty of time to eat, David swam and I exercised and acro’d on the lawn a bit (at one point looking up to find one of our neighbors on her porch watching with an expression that suggested a combination of fear and confusion), and we drove off to Orvieto feeling pretty fine. Once within its walls, Dvaid did some errands whilst Heather and I had cappuncini, used up our internet café cards and bought a plant for Vera. (The woman continually, unrelentingly takes lots of time to happily speak with us, not to mention gives us free bottles of wine and soda, when we visit her; we’ll never catch up on the gift front; she’s too good.) After a while we wound our way to Vera’s and had a lovely visit, incapable of escaping without having the wine we were trying to BUY from her hoisted upon us for no charge.

This entry—most of these later ones—grow more and more about a vacation than acting, theatre or The Third Life™. That’s one of the reasons we came here, I admit. As artists, we really don’t get “vacation time.” As Todd noted while he was here, so long as we get to do our work we generally don’t feel a need for vacation. What a lot of people outside of the effort of a Third Life® have trouble understanding is that we do work when we go out of town for a show, or take time for a tech week. The fact that we’re generally happier and better adjusted when we return just makes some people assume it was more like what sets them right, namely a couple of weeks out of the year to lie on a beach and sip margaritas, or some similar activity. As actors (and a director) our “vacations” coincide with our work, in part because that work is of necessity a third thing in our lives. It thrives most in these times we aren’t working to support our livelihood or focusing on a personal life. In other words, when we make time for it.

Not that I’m not grateful to be typing this on a sunny, vine-laced terrace in Europe, and not that it’s not luxurious and relaxing. I just wanted to express that observation to clear a little air.

So after dinner we headed to Pitigliano to see their production of Othello, or (as we shall henceforth refer to it):

La Strage del Teatro.

We had our warnings. Looking back, we had numerous cautions. And, I suppose, the worst of all possible outcomes would have been a show that sort of awkwardly straddled the fence between decent and sucky. Finally, to paraphrase Bernard in Black Books: “Enjoy. It’s dreadful, but it’s quite short.”

First of all, stupido Americani that we are, we arrived a half an hour before the time listed on the poster to have a gelato and take in that glorious Pitigliano sunset again. In so doing we witnessed the lead actor arrive, and one of the other, more punctual actors greet him at the door already in costume, said costume comprised of a lot of black gauze and satin. The doors didn’t open until the hour posted on the poster, and the show (if such a thing it may be called) didn’t begin until 10:00. Ah, we thought, let us remember this timing for when we plan a performance in Italy.

Imagine every parody, every farce, every pretentious off-off Broadway show, movie or skit you’ve seen, the subject of which is theatre or theatre life, roll them into one and make everyone speak Italian. You’ll approach what we witnessed. I have often thought it interesting, though etymologically difficult, how similar the words “tragedy” and “travesty” are. The idea has been made flesh. And black satin.

I’ve just conferred with my comrades, and there’s just no way to encapsulate all that was wrong with this show. Think of an aspect of theatre, and make it horribly, horribly wrong. David seemed to think that the director was someone who had seen a style of theatre in Rome or elsewhere Italian and decided that’s what he wanted to do, regardless of the show involved. I credit the director with less direction and more pretense and personal indulgence. Every character was dressed in black, gauze and satin, against a black backdrop. There was music during every interlude, of which there were dozens, and there was interpretive dance by non-dancers. Plus the acting was bad to the point of a approximating a slide show on what not to do on stage.

Redeeming qualities? Well, it was interesting to note—by way of this production and conversations with Andrea—that apparently not much Shakespeare is done in Italy. The language doesn’t translate well, and given the physical background of Italy’s theatre tradition, a language- or poetry-based theatre must seem fairly inaccessible to the general public. So what’s popular where Shakespeare is concerned (and he must be very concerned indeed), and was what we saw yester night, is to take the story and not the text itself. This is very interesting to me for two reasons. The first is that we would pretty much never think of doing this in the English-speaking countries unless the play was mere inspiration for an entirely different setting or conflict (West Side Story, for instance). The language is a major purpose of the plays for us, in other words. Secondly, transliterating Shakespeare strikes me as very similar—or perhaps a reverse-engineering—of what Shakespeare did to the commedia dell’arte plays he may have witnessed as a youth; plays such as may influenced A Comedy of Errors or All’s Well That Ends Well. Finally, for all the pretension of the director, the actors themselves were very earnest and modest in their efforts. This reminded us of Michael Green’s Coarse Acting plays, but it also reinforced for us that what we experienced was overall a positive experience, more full of good intention than an actual; disregard of or disrespect of us as an audience.

We drove home happily counting the Shakespearean clichés and regaling one another with our reinterpretations of favorite foibles. If the mark of a successful play is the continued effect it has on its audience, then this production of Othello was indeed successful.

Too successful, in its way.