‘Inner Voices’ a beautiful study in any language
By Hedy Weiss Theater Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org June 26, 2013 10:52AM
Peppe Servillo (from left), Toni Servillo and Antonello Cossia star in Piccolo Teatro di Milano’s production of “Inner Voices.” | PHOTO BY FABIO ESPOSITO
When: Through June 29
Where: Piccolo Teatro di Milano at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, 800 E. Grand on Navy Pier
Info: (312) 595-5600; w ww.chicagoshakes.com
Run time: 1 hour and 50 minutes, with no intermission
Updated: July 30, 2013 7:15AM
In one of the most beguiling scenes in Eduardo De Filippo’s play, “Inner Voices,” an elderly man recalls how in a happy Neapolitan household people would routinely move the furniture around, changing the position of a dresser or placement of a carpet. The realignment was a reliable source of contentment. But not now.
The “now” is the time immediately after World War II. Fascism had just been defeated, but Italy was left spiritually upended and desperately poor, and the furniture of an entire society had shifted radically. Nothing — particularly human relationships and the once dependable bonds of trust and justice — could be depended upon. Life had become not so much a dream as an unreliable nightmare.
You can well imagine the impact De Filippo’s play had when it first arrived in 1948. But watching the altogether glorious production by the Piccolo Teatro Di Milano now being presented as part of Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s invaluable World’s Stage series, it also is easy to understand why a revival of this play might strike a powerful chord with many contemporary European audiences — especially those facing economic meltdown and the unraveling of life as they’ve known it for decades.
Had Samuel Beckett been an Italian absurdist rather than Irish one, this is the play he might have written, though you’d have to toss in a bit of Arthur Miller, too. An unlikely combination? Absolutely. But De Filippo found just the right tone for capturing a shattered world trying to piece itself back together. And of course he gave a particularly Italian spin to matters of superstition, familial conspiracy, betrayal, scandal, gossip and talk of food, church and money.
So just what is the actual story being told here? It is about what happens when the elderly Alberto Saporito (Toni Servillo, the production’s sublime leading actor and director), mistakes a dream for reality.
Alberto shares in a fading furniture business with his rather devious brother, Carlo (Peppe Servillo, a gaunt figure who winningly devours an eating scene), and also cares for his ancient, mute, wise fool of an uncle, Nicola (Daghi Rondanini). After a young friend and neighbor, Aniello Amitrano, disappears without explanation, Alberto has an impossibly vivid dream that convinces him the man has been murdered by other neighbors, the Cimmarutas, and he and Carlo enact a sort of citizen’s arrest of Pasquale Cimmaruta (the marvelous Gigio Morra), a wreck of a man, clearly traumatized during the war, and convinced his wife is working as a prostitute. Alberto accuses Pasquale of covering up the dirty deeds of his bitter, feckless son, Luigi (Vincenzo Nemolato).
Chaos ensues, with other relatives and neighbors involved, and with almost all exhibiting the very worst behavior. The law is no match for such intimate betrayals, real and imagined.
Played out on a raked stage with a poetically minimalist set by Lino Fiorito (magically lit by Cesare Accetta), this artfully envisioned production is performed in Italian with projected English translation. But the body language of the 14 actors here (including the notably winning Chiara Baffi and Betti Pedrazzi) is so brilliant, you might almost find yourself wishing the words, as wonderful as they are, would disappear. After all, as Alberto realizes, the world is a madhouse, and maybe Uncle Nicola, who communicated only by setting off firecrackers, was really on to something.