History of Western Theatre: 17th Century to Now/Italian Pre-WWII

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The dominant figure in Italian pre-World War II drama is Luigi Pirandello (1867-1936), achieving world-wide fame with such comedy-dramas as "Così è, se vi pare" (So it is, if you think it is, 1917), "Sei Personaggi in Cerca d'Autore" (Six characters in search of an author, 1921), and "Enrico IV" (Henry IV, 1922). Honorable mention should be extended to Ugo Betti (1892-1953) for "Corruzione al palazzo di giustizia" (Corruption in the palace of justice, 1944) and "Delitto all'isola delle capre" (Crime at Goat Island, 1946) as well as Luigi Chiarelli (1880-1947) for "La maschera e il volto" (The mask and the face, 1916).

Luigi Pirandello was the dominant playwright of early 20th century Italian theatre, 1934

"So it is, if you think it is"[edit]

"So it is, if you think it is". Time: 1910s. Place: Italy.

"So it is, if you think it is" text at http://www.ibiblio.org/eldritch/lp/itisso.htm

Agazzi, a counselor, learns from his wife, Amalia, and his daughter, Dina, that Ponza, secretary at the prefecture, prevents his second wife, Lena, from seeing her own mother, except when conversing from her balcony five floors up. Landisi, friend and neighbor to Ponza's mother-in-law, Signora Frola, remarks that things are not always as they appear, a person sometimes being different to different people. Having heard about the evil rumors against Ponza, Frola explains he is "kind, attentive, solicitous for my comfort," but it is his wish to keep his wife all to himself, which they consider extremely selfish on his part. After her departure, Ponza arrives distraught, explaining, to their astonishment, that Frola is insane, believing in her delusion that his present wife is her daughter when actually it is his dead wife who is her daughter. After his departure, Frola returns, as distraught as he, to reveal it is Ponza who is insane. Her story is that Ponza was so seized with love for her daughter that authorities had to take her away temporarily, so that he came to believe her dead. This cannot be verified by official documents because an earthquake destroyed all records in their home town. Nevertheless, Agazzi's family and friends think to get at the truth by confronting Ponza with Frola, but the results are equivocal. Next, they ask Lena to come over, hoping to learn from her whether she is truly Frola's daughter. But before they do, a harassed Ponza, feeling his word is no longer worth anything, resigns from the prefecture. Next a weeping Frola tells them all how miserable they have made her life. At last Lena arrives, but once again the results are equivocal, so that Laudisi laughs on being proven right: two opposite conclusions can be equally correct, it is so if you think so.

"Six characters in search of an author"[edit]

"Six characters in search of an author". Time: 1920s. Place: Italy.

"Six characters in search of an author" text at http://www.ibiblio.org/eldritch/lp/six.htm

An acting company rehearsing a play is interrupted by the arrival of a family of six: father, mother, two sons, one daughter, one stepdaughter. The father mysteriously announces that they are characters in search of an author. At first, the director considers them mad and wants them to leave, but then is intrigued by their family history to the extent of wanting to produce it as a stage-play. The father blames his wife for most of their disagreements, forced at last to leave the family abode. Many years later, he meets his stepdaughter in Madame Pace's whore-house without recognizing who she is. The father and stepdaughter are touchy about the play-acting of this scene, wishing it to appear exactly as it was. The director commands the actors to observe the scene carefully for the forthcoming play, whereby the characters are stunned to learn that they will not be allowed to play in their own play. Madame Pace is needed at this juncture, so that, to the actors' surprise, the father suddenly introduces her to them. Madame Pace tells the stepdaughter she must shape up and do a better job in the scene, otherwise she will show her mother the door. The mother protests about the necessity of this scene, but her opinion is ignored. As the father and stepdaughter act out that part of their life, the director interrupts them. The actors cut in and imitate them, at which the characters frequently laugh aloud at their poor imitation of reality. The director is thus forced to allow the characters to play before their own rehearsal begins. The crucial moment arrives when father and stepdaughter embrace lasciviously until the distressed mother rushes in to cry out her true identity, a scene which pleases the director enormously. While waiting for the next scene, the characters exhibit severe conflicts, especially the father against the son, the latter appearing almost as a stranger in his own family, having been sent away at a young age. Amid the fray, the youngest boy and girl huddle close together, silently. Amid more squabbles and recriminations, the young girl accidentally falls into a fountain and is drowned. Distressed in the extreme, the young boy shoots himself. While the family grieves on the sudden deaths, the director and actors cannot believe what they have just seen. Is this part of the play?

"Henry IV"[edit]

"Henry IV". Time: 1920s. Place: Italy.

"Henry IV" text at http://www.ibiblio.org/eldritch/lp/e4.htm

Henry IV, Roman Emperor (1050–1106), presents himself in penitential garb before Pope Gregory VII (1028-1085) at Canossa

A rich man believes himself to be Henry IV, the 11th century German emperor. He is humored in that role by a variety of servants who profit by it. Marchioness Matilda, her daughter Frida, and Baron Belcredi explain to Doctor Genoni that this unfortunate event was the result of a fall incurred during a Medieval pageant 15 years ago. Matilda further explains he was in love with her at that time. She remarks that one of women's many misfortunes is to be the mark of "eyes glaring at us with a contained intense promise of eternal devotion," "There is nothing quite so funny," she adds. To shock him back to reality, Matilda pretends to be Henry IV's mother-in-law, the doctor pretends to be Hugh of Cluny, and Belcredi pretends to be a monk. Henry IV enters in penitential sackcloth and is immediately suspicious of the monk, considering him a disguised enemy. He speaks of the nature of our desires, no less ridiculous "when the will is kept within the bounds of the possible". Genoni concludes that Henry, like children when they play, both believes and disbelieves in his and their disguises. Frida becomes the Countess Matilda of Tuscany in the likeness of her portrait in the throne-room. The ploy seems to work, as Henry sees all the disguised figures step down from their portraits, especially stunned on seeing Frida as Matilda appeared so many years ago. But then Henry reveals he had recovered his senses a long time ago, with a sensation that "everything had finished" and that he was arriving "at a banquet which had already been cleared away". He further declares he is cured because "he can act the madman to perfection". To prove it, he draws near the frightened Frida as his long-lost love. When Belcredi bars his way, he stabs him to death.

Ugo Betti wrote about corruption in high places, 1955

"Corruption in the palace of justice"[edit]

"Corruption in the palace of justice". Time: 1940s. Place: Italy.

"Corruption in the palace of justice" text at ?

A palace of justice in Italy becomes the seat of corruption

Several judges learn from their colleague, Judge Croz, that the ministry has sent Councillor Erzi to investigate into some of their doings. Though near death, Judge Croz would like to receive the president's cap on his head. Ludvi-Pol, a man particularly involved in suspicious activities, has committed suicide in the palace of justice. Judge Cust reveals that man had dealings with President Vanan and that the latter was inside the building on the night he killed himself. Vanan defends himself badly to the charge of illegally receiving funds from Ludvo-Pol. Though everything seems to point to Vanan's guilt, Erzi points out to Cust that one authoritative voice at least has defended him, Cust himself, so that Cust must be above suspicion, it being unlikely that the guilty turns an inquiry away from a false trail. "The real dangers are inside one's self," Cust comments. "What should the guilty worry about most?" wonders Erzi. "The documents," answers Cust. A much wasted Vanan is about to be interrogated. His daughter, Elena, comes forth with papers proving in her view his innocence. Without reading them, Cust interrogates her and dismisses her arguments one at a time, opining that her father is unlikely to be innocent. In front of Erzi and Croz, Cust drops the papers in the wastebasket. As they discuss the case, they hear Elena has just suffered a fatal accident by falling down an elevator shaft, at which Cust is devastated. Later, Croz finds Cust suspiciously looking about for documents and thinks to have discovered "the leper" among them. He wishes to reveal this to the others, but suffers a stroke. At his last gasp, he does not reveal his suspicions concerning Cust, who is named the new president. However, tired about the whole affair, Cust decides to disclose his crime to the ministry.

"Crime at Goat Island"[edit]

"Crime at Goat Island". Time: 1940s. Place: Goat Island, Italy.

"Crime at Goat Island" text at ?

The tranquility at Goat Island is broken because of rivalries between three women for the same man

After several years spent in an African jail, Angelo visits Goat Island, where his dead jailmate lived before leaving his wife, Agata. He first meets Agata's sister-in-law, Pia, telling her he has no money and expecting to stay on as a laborer. He asks whether she would be kind to him if he comes to her in the night, but is repulsed. To the mistress of the place, Agata, he specifies he knows all about her from her husband's talk, including her sexual proclivities, showing every sign of wanting to replace her dead husband. Agata repulses him, but with Pia and her daughter, Silvia, retired for the night, she unlocks the door in hope of Angelo's return. He does and remains with the three women. Six months later, Silvia tells her mother she wants to head back to the university. She is scandalized and humiliated that Angelo is sleeping not only with her mother but also with her sister-in-law as well as herself. She pleads with her mother to let him go. Agata refuses. In desperation, she reveals her intention of killing him, which Agata dismisses as idle talk. However, on day, as he bends over to look over some clothes, Silvia creeps up behind him with a loaded gun until intercepted by Pia. Unable still to convince her mother, Sylvia prepares to leave when suddenly the ladder slips down their well at the moment Angelo is looking for something in it. He cries for help, but the women do nothing. Two days later, Pia beseeches Agata to bring him back up, but she refuses. Silvia pleads more vehemently but with the same result. A desperate Angelo climbs the wall of the well but then falls as a man comes over to give Silvia a lift back to town. Unable to convince her sister-in-law, Pia leaves as well. With everyone gone, Agata throws down a rope down the well, but there is no response.

Luigi Chiarelli showed that to obtain the best form of revenge one must wear a mask

"The mask and the face"[edit]

"The mask and the face". Time: 1910s. Place: Italy.

"The mask and the face" text at http://archive.org/details/maskfacesatirein00fern

Mario wears a mask of contentment only after vengeance is assured

At Count Mario Grazia's house party, judge Ugo points out to Pier, a banker, that Franco as a lawyer is very adroit with a jury. "And with a woman," Pier adds, though the woman in question is Savina, the wife of his best friend, Mario. Before a group of unbelieving or shocked people, Mario expresses the opinion that if a woman leaves her husband, his duty is to kill her. Alone with her lover, Franco, Savina is irritated at his zeal, especially after he already paid for a dress and belt she asked him to buy for her in Paris. "Not a night but I dream of you," says Franco, to which she ironically replies: "I'll write your epitaph: hers lies Franco Spina, as usual." She wants him to come to her room from the terrace to take the gift away. Pier overhears his wife, Nina, agree to go to the studio of a sculptor, Georges, apparently for an adulterous purposes. He makes them know he overheard them, then shrugs it off. Mario is disgusted with his lenient attitude. Aware of Franco's love of Savina and in love with him herself, Delia pretends she saw Mario enter her room when she knows it was Franco. Mario rushes off to shoot Savina, but is prevented from doing so by his friends. Nevertheless, without caring to know who the man is, he wants her to leave Italy as if she were dead in exchange for money, a subterfuge she is forced to accept. He then confesses to the authorities to his wife's murder and accepts Franco as his defense attorney. The jury finds him innocent because of his wife's presumed scandalous behavior, which becomes a celebrated case. To his surprise and disgust, he receives thousands of approving letters and is banqueted by the city authorities. His story awes wives into submission to their husbands, even Nina towards Pier. Later, a fisherman discovers by chance Savina's dress and belt in the lake next to the count's villa, where Franco threw them away. To prevent their searching for more evidence, Mario says he has discovered the body and pays the mayor so that he need not show it. Instead, he places in her coffin one of George's statues. To his surprise and disgust, Savina shows up the night before her own funeral. After spending several months in prison, he is unable to resist her charms in bed, though unwilling the next day to reveal the truth. At last, he feels he ought to. At first his friends do not believe him, then they advise him to bury the truth in secrecy. "If the public knew of the hoax, you would be nearly ruined," says Ugo. Pier points out that his supposed deed has had a positive impact on moral principles. Indeed, when Nina discovers it, she becomes her old insolent self towards her husband.