‘Italians’, an Italy imagined from Albania

“I had never been to Italy, but I knew it by heart because my mother told me every night the stories that my father told her,” explains Tonino Cantisani, star of Italians, one-man show that opens next week at the Neighborhood Theatre. Through this truthful fictional character, the Calabrian author Saverio La Ruina weaves together testimonies of the children that some Italians interned in concentration camps in Albania had with native women after the defeat of the Axis in the World War II.

With this soliloquy represented by Riccardo Rigamonti, also of Calabrian roots, Saverio La Ruina won the Ubu award for best performer in 2011, the date from which the original production has been on the bill. The version that Rigamonti premieres is very faithful, according to what was seen in a previous screening. Italians begins with a short overture in which, as in opera, the leitmotifs that the author develops throughout a show whose intimate subject (the transmission of an affective legacy from parents to children and the search for one’s own identity in the parental identity) has as a background the theme of the division of Europe into two blocs whose latent confrontation produced many victims made invisible during the Cold War.

There is a sincere lyricism in a good part of the story that Cantisani reels off in constant leaps of time and place. They speak of the elderly man that the protagonist is today, the boy who enjoyed dribbling imaginary balls between the legs of the older people crowded into tar sheds, the young man initiated into the Calabrian language by the teacher Giuvannu (from whom he will inherit the trade of concentration camp tailor), the lover of a girl with “blue eyes so light blue that they seemed the same color as the sky”. With their colloquial language, the characters in La Ruina create a multitude of clear images, populated with figures, on a stage where there is only one actor and a chair.

Rigamonti’s expressive performance, which does not stop moving his hands, as good communicators are advised, has a powerful, well-measured gestural imprint: each of his gestures counts. His acting style is closer to that of the versatile actors in Ariane Mnouchkine than to those of Peter Brook, always so content There are moments in the meridian of this function in which we miss the point of view of the other party: that of the Albanians, who could not stop seeing the Italians as invaders, since they made their country a protectorate between April 1939 and September 1943. However, the two revelations that Cantisani has in his round trips between both nations, in the last act, imprint on Italians a dialectical dimension and a double perspective that make it truly valuable.

‘Italians’. Text: Saverio The Ruin. Direction: Riccardo Rigamonti and María Gómez de Castro. Madrid. Teatro del Barrio, from January 14 to February 4.

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‘Italians’, an Italy imagined from Albania