Inner Voices at Chicago Shakespeare Theater | Theater review
Milan's Piccolo Teatro stages a compelling, darkly comic portrait of postwar Italy.
Eduardo De Filippo's 1948 play depicts a postwar Italy that's restless, literally and figuratively. The piece opens on a young maid sleeping fitfully at a kitchen table; when she wakes, she describes in detail a strange and disturbing dream. As the rest of the household begins to rouse, it seems no one slept well. The man of the house, Pasquale Cimmaruta, is startled awake by the slightest sound; his wife, Matilde, sleeps with her alarm clock under her pillow. The family, including their two children and Pasquale's sister Rosa, scrapes by on money Matilde makes by reading fortunes.
The Cimmarutas' neighbors, aged bachelor brothers Carlo and Alberto Saporito, are struggling as well, getting by on renting out a vast store of chairs and rugs left to them by their father. They too have had a fretful night: Alberto has had a dream of his own, so vivid it seems real, that the Cimmarutas have murdered another neighbor. He's so convinced that he and Carlo have the whole family arrested—but when no evidence turns up where Alberto's sure it should be, he realizes his mistake and recants. Funny thing, though: The supposed victim does seem to be missing, and the members of the Cimmaruta family, with the seed planted, come to Alberto separately, accusing one another of the crime.
The dark comedy, in a new production by Milan's Piccolo Teatro presented here as part of the Year of Italian Culture and Chicago Shakespeare Theater's World's Stage series, suggests De Filippo as an Italian cousin of Beckett (with perhaps a touch of Shakespeare in his tidy ending). Yet the playwright's absurdist accents—the Saporitos' mad, mute uncle communicates in a language of fireworks—are wedded to a real moment of Italian identity crisis. Could even your own family members—or your own senses—be trusted? Piccolo's sharp, beautifully designed revival, performed in Italian with projected English supertitles, sports a rich 14-member ensemble so wonderfully expressive you could almost do without the translation. Director Toni Servillo is marvelous as Alberto, undergoing an enthralling unraveling.