Review of “F-Aìda” by Tommaso Chimenti

CATANZARO (Calabria, Italy) – One has to cross the Morandi Bridge to enter Catanzaro. Another bridge. The recent Genoese memories of bridges bring nothing good, especially after the interception of telephone conversations demonstrating that the materials for its construction had not been so optimal. The wind always blows very strongly in Catanzaro), a city of lifts and funiculars. From the belvedere, where a sculpture of a women’s profile seems to cut the clouds, in the distance, the sea seems to be covered by dozens of wind turbines that have made the panorama ugly with their perennial swirling rotation. White, in the background, they spin round and round on the green hills. Catanzaro is the city of the three Vs, San Vitaliano, il velluto e il vento (Saint Vitaliano, the velvet and the wind): “Finding a true friend is as rare as a windless day in Catanzaro” says a popular proverb. The dispute with Reggio Calabria revolving around the capital of the region is historic and eternal. At the end of the main street, next to the former prison, on the many high glass panels that protect the structure from the fury of Aeolus, black silhouettes of men from the side have been drawn. They seem to look at the valley. They are by far, the most suggestive artistic thing of the city.

Photo by Marco Costantino

Many football fans remember the inevitably doubtful penalty scored by Brady on the last day during the Catanzaro-Juventus in 1982, which gave another wishy-washy and controversial championship to the bianconeri, this time against Antognoni’s Fiorentina. White and covered with small windows, the strange structure of the Politeama Theatre looks like a spaceship, a hospital, an office building, a bank, a Soviet-era building, everything but a theatre. The symbols of the Ionian city are the morzello, a typical dish made with innards, heart, lungs, tripe, liver, stomach drowned in spicy tomato sauce and Massimo Palanca, the left-handed striker who made the fortunes of Catanzaro between Serie A, B and C with a very special record to rival those of Cristiano Ronaldo in the media: thirteen scores directly from a corner kick.

There are other records, unenviable this time, from the crime and judicial news: hundreds of crimes, in most cases without a culprit, attributed to the ‘ndrangheta or to vendettas between families that have bloodstained the lives of entire villages for decades with people killed on the streets in the name of feeble honour, blind pride and the defence of the vulgar dignity of one’s family, to remedy alleged offenses received. Three feuds, those of Taurianova, San Luca and Cittanova have risen to national prominence since the 90s.

“Playing” with the lexical deconstruction of the term faida (feud), Mana Chuma, a theatre company with Calabrian and Sicilian roots and committed to a theatre that brings social and civil themes and arguments to the surface, has dissolved and broken the word of revenge transliterating it into “F-Aìda” where, like Eros and Thanatos, the hate and blood of the faida (feud) coexist with the beauty, the art and sweetness of Aida, a female name and the name of an opera. An exceptional and admirable imposing structure by the artist Aldo Zucco fills and animates the scene with a statue of the Virgin, mother and Madonna (reminding us of the series “The Miracle”) on the left, the corpse of the father at the centre (reminding us of those of the Capuccini Convent in Palermo) on an autopsy operating table. Behind, there is a Titanic-like-backdrop structure that seems to have been made with pieces of boats that sunk deep in the Mediterranean (bringing back to mind the stage design of the play “Kate i Rades” by Francesco Niccolini on the Albanian ship sunk in the Adriatic after a collision with an Italian Navy boat), wooden pieces discoloured by the brackish, sunk without salvation, without breath.

This cardboard fortress is also, metaphorically, the cluster of superstructures within the mafia logic of an eye for an eye, of the trivial and tribal and rural customs of the do-it-yourself kind of justice: it looks like Yemeni mud houses with windows as mouths of truth or loopholes of medieval buildings perched in ancient barbaric traditions, openings as if eroded by mice that have reminded us of the towers of Kiefer (or the seven Celestial Palaces) permanently exhibited at the Pirelli Hangar Bicocca in Milan. It seems like being inside the film “Black Souls” by Francesco Munzi. A Calabria in black and white stained with polka dot blood, splashed with plasma and ‘nduja[1].

Written and directed by both Massimo Barilla and Salvatore Arena, the play is onomatopoeic and poetic and at the same time imbued with that substance and material that is so concrete that it hurts, it hurts when listening. The words evoke and express an ancestral violence against which there seems to be no remedy no levee no rescue no purification no redemption. A corrupt and rotten world, tangled up in itself, which feeds its children to produce meat for slaughter, new slaughters to soil the streets, alleys and sidewalks, to colour that ancient and dark world with new pain. Alone on stage, Arena embodies, with the usual expressive force and generosity (his stylistic code), a power that seems to take charge of every word, of every suspension, a participatory and lived interpretation inch by inch, breath by breath on the skin. Arena doesn’t spare himself, his heart, his belly, his liver, his stomach.

The pretext for this feud is a lamb born from the ram of a family and from the sheep of the rival family: the Malapaglias and the Cacciacarta. Like the Montecchi and the Capulets. An eye for an eye and the world goes blind, argued Gandhi. Sheep, ram and lamb, sacrificial animals such as young people, men and members of the two families who annihilate themselves like beasts falling like skittles. In this war of rancid resentment that stains the lives of the village, there is, in so much suffering, a glimmer, not so much of liberation but at least of intelligence and foresight in wanting to stop this dripping of bodies: other lambs to be slaughtered, this time with human features, Rocco (maybe coming from Fidelio?) and Alfredo (from the Traviata?), like Romeo and Romeo, decide to stop this carnage. It is a sub-track of the narrative, a story within a story, a Deandreian flower born from so much manure. After being locked up like an animal in a cage by his father in a slammer for years, Rocco becomes Aida. Aida is beauty and chants and longing (music by Luigi Polimeni) and the macho element melts and the cancerous feelings fall apart and the macho knots yield inexorably: “Is this love? This evil that poisons us, this rope that tightens us”. The entire performance is a long angry confession revolving around the corpse of the father, source of hatred and destruction. A theatre of pangs, of teeth to be pulled, of meat to be slaughtered, a theatre that bleeds, a theatre of mud and tears. One comes out cut and incredulous, wounded and aware.

[1] Typical sausage from Calabria with a soft texture and a very spicy taste.

Translated from Italian by Elizabeth GRECH