Okay, fine, so I didn’t actually go to the opera (Don’t look at me like that! That Anna Karenina lifestyle is expensive!). That’s just a Queen song. But seriously, you do this job long enough, you find yourself scrambling for clever pop culture references like your life depends on it.
But there was a night! And a theater-oriented event! That counts, right? RIGHT? PLEASE STILL PAY ME TEMPLE ROME I’M TRYING SO HARD OVER HERE.
So while I remain deprived of my usual yearly showing of “Carmen” (don’t pretend to know my pain), my dramatic self did get a taste of Italian theatrics this week. And about time too- I was really starting to crave Italian drama that took place somewhere other than the metro. Now, let me make this as clear as I can: I love the theater, but I am not a theater kid. Even though I love going to see plays, and the act of putting a play together has always been fascinating to me, I don’t always come out totally satisfied. Call me a tough critic, but the whole dramatic , jazz-hands act just doesn’t cut it for me. I hate Romeo and Juliet. My favorite part of the Sweeney Todd production I caught at GW last semester was when Sweeney ground up the tenor as burger meat or whatever because that meant I didn’t have to sit through another jazz square. Sometimes, there’s a part of me that literally wants to punch Neil Patrick Harris in the face.
I like things that make me think. When I go to the theater, I want to be as absorbed in the story as if I were reading a book or seeing a movie. And that’s hard to do when you’ve got noisy audiences, visible light fixtures, and zero CGI effects in real-life performances. How lucky for me, then, that my Italian professor decided to take our Italian IV class to catch a production of Luigi Pirandello’s “The Trap” (“La Trappola”) last week at the Teatro Argentina. Because let me tell you something- if my mind had taken any more loops, I would surely not be typing this right now.
SEXY CAN I AMIRITE
Quick fun facts about Pirandello: He was a really important existentialist writer during the time of World War I, and received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1934, which I guess makes him good enough to attempt to entertain us for 90 minutes. Creator of the concept of a “theatre within the theatre” in the play Sei personaggi in cerca d’autore (Six Characters in Search of an Author), he became an important innovator in modern drama. In other words, he’s a real queen. The psychologically astute “La Trappola” is one of his best novellas, and was recently adapted for the stage, which is no small feat considering the book features only one character and he spends most of the time talking to himself.
Not as enciting as “Spring Breakers”, I’m sure, but bear with me. From what I observed and what snippets of Italian I could understand, the premise goes as follows:
1. Nameless guy has an existentialist crisis while moving around his huge 19th-century library.
As you do.
2. In the next room, his elderly, dying father spends his days crying, apparently for no reason.
Why does everyone always cry in existentialist stuff? Life could be worse, okay? You could have re-elected Berlusconi. Priorities.
3. Nameless Guy Jr. spends a lot of time walking around the house, yelling at himself, and addressing the audience.
This was actually pretty cool. By making the audience a character and acknowledging its presence as a witness to the absurd, it felt less like a “Vagina Monologues” (I mean, other than because of the obvious stuff) and much more interactive.
4. He looks into his library, opens a philosophy book, and reads “The horse does not exist because he does not think he exists”
Basically, he’s looking at his father, whose vocabulary range is probably shorter than a Teletubby, and wondering whether being alive makes us human to begin with. You can sort of understand where he’s coming from- I mean, what is the point of being alive if Winky-Dinky can beat you at a battle of wits?
5. He repeats that he hates all women, who are master trappers, only to be seduced by a creepy upper-class nurse who has as much sex appeal as Edith from Downton Abbey.
Seriously, I cannot even begin to properly explain how creepy this woman was. I sat through SWEENEY TODD and was totally unshaken. And they CUT PEOPLE UP ONSTAGE. But bring a sexually-aware live rendition of “The Yellow Wallpaper” and I’m left shaking. The way she waltzed around the room and spoke slowly, only to cackle in laughter at the end of the scene was superb. If you can’t properly imagine that, think back to that scene in Sleeping Beauty where Aurora pricks her finger on the wheel and maybe you’ll get a taste of how disturbingly unsettling that entire scene was.
I WILL FRIENDZONE YOU SO BADLY YOU HAVE NO IDEA BAHAHHAHA
6. After he realizes he has fallen into the trap once again he panics, takes out a revolver, relieves his father, and kills himself as well.
As you do.
In spite of all the yelling, the unceremonious deaths, and the various phrases in Italian that I’m sure must be a departure from the regularly scheduled programing (what, people here don’t speak English? What is this witchcraft?!). I loved the play. I loved, loved, loved it. More than a performance, it felt like a lesson in philosophy, albeit hardly an optimistic one. Due credit must be given to Gabriele Lavia, who employed elements from comedia del’arte and improvisation to bring the audience into his point of view, which is very difficult to do when you’re practically leading a one-man show. The show itself seemed more like a film than a play- there was a strange instrumental soundtrack that would have been right at home in any Tim Burton film, and the rising crescendo of the music every time the story would reach a climax left me pretty shaken. The set was incredible, with vintage objects strewn all over the place as if to remind us all that even though objects are lifeless, they will still outlive us. We eventually realize that the house itself is a trap. The room, meant to symbolize the mind of man, is also a trap. His crisis, so it would seem, was a cry for freedom- if what differentiates us from animals are feelings and memory, what’s the point of being alive if those same feelings are just going to screw us over in the end? He presents a weird Catch-22 of sorts, because his dad, who is senile and hardly speaks, could hardly be considered alive by that definition. Yet, he’s still a human- or is he?
Women especially are master trappers- they entice you with their feminine charms and leave you drained and hopeless once you are of no more use to them. To be born, to love, and to feel anything is to fall into the trap. So why live at all?
Moral of the story?
This might sound like a lot to digest for a study abroad blog post and for anybody whose GenEd requirements do not demand they read post-war existentialism (thankfully, a majority of you), but the thing I’m getting at is this: even though these topics were pretty complex to understand, it was amazing how much of the plot I was able to follow relying on barely three months of Italian language practice. It was crazy how much easier understanding the language got once your mind entered the realm of a story. And even if you missed some words or couldn’t understand a certain phrase, you could pick out clues through the actors’ motions or voices to give you some idea. Anyway, it’s existentialism – even when spoken in your own language it makes zero sense.
So to all my Temple Romiez, if you feel like you’re up for the challenge, make sure you head down to Teatro Argentina and check it out. I really couldn’t think of any way to let out my broke-college-student-what-is-the-meaning-of-life-if-I-can’t-get-Neutral-Milk-Hotel-On-Vinyl woes.