In Italian or English, truth is an amorphous thing
|Piccolo Teatro di Milano i/a/w Chicago Shakespeare Theater presents|
Review by Catey Sullivan
With Inner Voices, acclaimed Italian actor Toni Servillo makes his Chicago debut as the director and star of a story that delves into the amorphous, slippery concept of truth. In the world of Eduardo de Filippo‘s darkly comic – and at times confounding – play, dreams bleed into reality, leaving the dreamers unable to definitively draw the line between the world of imagination and the world of waking action.
A minimalist, occasionally maddening production brought to Chicago Shakespeare Theater by Piccolo Teatro di Milano, Teatro di Roma and Teatri Uniti, Inner Voices is defined by a minimalist aesthetic and an arch humor. Why is it maddening? Performed in Italian with supertitles, Inner Voices is often tough to follow. It wasn’t until I got home and pored over the program that I was able to fully piece together precisely how the 14 different characters on stage were related to one another. Going in cold to the production is a challenge daunting enough to damper the story’s impact – if you’re preoccupied with figuring out the connections between characters (not to mention why the stage is at one point surreally dominated by an arc of floating chairs), you’re bound to lose some of the dramatic impact of the story itself.
At lights up, the audience sees an almost blank canvas of a stage, a clean sweep of chalk-white broken only by a white cupboard, a table and chairs. Against this stark setting, a slumbering woman is sprawled and snoring; she is Maria, a maid, and before long we are hearing about her shockingly vivid dreams of black-headed worms, bloody umbrellas and runaway hearts. Maria’s description of the fantasies bubbling up from her subconscious serves as an eerie, absurdly humorous prelude to the narrative of another dreamer, one that will cause the buried antipathy among the assorted family and neighbors of Inner Voices to explode at the surface.
In the world of Inner Voices, dreams – or rather one dream in particular – provoke a disillusioning honesty as the unreal phantoms of the wee hours drench the waking world with an acid that strips away false pretenses of familial and neighborly harmony. One man’s certainty that a murder has been committed in his apartment building may be based on a chimera, but the fallout from his illusion proves to be anything but illusory.
The crux of the story is this: Alberto Saporito (Servillo), owns a furniture rental business with his brother Carlo (Peppe Servillo, Toni Servillo‘s real-life brother). They live in an apartment building that also houses the Cimmaruta clan, a colorful crew that includes the fortune-telling Matilde (who may actually be working as a prostitute), her husband Pasquale, her son and daughter, Luigi and Elvira, and her sister Rosa. Also in the building is the Saporitos’ Uncle Nicola, who communicates solely through a complex Morse-code like launching of firecrackers and flares.
When Alberto dreams the Cimmarutas have committed a murder and hidden the evidence in their kitchen, he becomes convinced that the dream was real and alerts the police. The Cimmarutas are subsequently arrested – and almost immediately released because of a lack evidence. But after their release, things hardly return to normal as the various members of the Cimmaruta family begin accusing each other of a murder they’ve become convinced has actually taken place. Malice, greed and envy – all elements that were hardly apparent before Alberto’s dream – become the dominant emotions within the troubled building.
Toni Servillo is a standout as the troubled Alberto, an ordinary man beset by overwhelming forces he can’t adequately contend with. But for me, the most intriguing character of Inner Voices is the voiceless Uncle Nicola (Daghi Rondanini), a man who chose to go mute because he believed the world had "gone deaf. " Nicola lives with a clarity that eludes the rest of his family. Amid the confusing chatter of those that surround him, Nicola’s silence speaks volumes.
Inner Voices continues through June 29th at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Navy Pier (map).. Tickets are $50-$60, and are available by phone (312-595-5600) or online through Chicago Shakes’ website (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at ChicagoShakes.com. (Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes, no intermission)
Photos by Fabio Esposito
Chiara Baffi (Maria, cameriera), Betti Pedrazzi (Rosa Cimmaruta), Marcello Romolo, (Michele, portiere), Peppe Servillo (Carlo Saporito), Toni Servillo (Alberto Saporito), Gigio Morra (Pasquale Cimmaruta), Lucia Mandarini (Matilde Cimmaruta), Vincenzo Nemolato (Luigi Cimmaruta), Marianna Robustelli (Elvira Cimmaruta), Antonello Cossia (Un brigadiere), Daghi Rondanini (Zi’ Nicola), Rocco Giordano (Capa d’Angelo), Maria Angela Robustelli (Teresa Amitrano), Francesco Paglino (Aniello Amitrano)
behind the scenes
Tony Servillo (director), Lino Fiorito (set design), Ortensia De Francesco (costumes), Cesare Accetta (light design), Daghi Rondanini (sound), Costanza Boccardi (assistant director), Fabio Esposito (photos)