Sunday, June 24, 2012

Review- Filumena- Italian Chamber of Commerce and Stylus Theatre

"Children are children"- Eduardo Filippo

This is by far the most memorable line in the show and one of the overall themes of the play. We are all equal. We are all children at one point in our lives. We are all the same and should be judged the same. Filippo's play also explores meanings of motherhood, respectability, and what is the family unit. When the family is such an iconic thing in the Italian culture Filippo explores the non-traditional family with a mother who takes care of a children from a far and a woman who was raised in a family that hated her.

Filippo's play, Filumena was one of two Italian plays that hit the Hong Kong stage this weekend. It was produced by the Italian Chamber of Commerce in partner with Stylus Theatre. Directed and Designed by Adam Harris. I came to the theatre expecting a barrel of laughs, as when I studied Filippo in college I had come to believe that Filippo was a satirist but I left the theatre I was a bit puzzled to say the least...

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not going to slam this play. I thought the performances were good. Especially the performances by the leads Barry O'Rorke and Suzy Sampson. Both did a wonderful job with characters that had huge flaws in them and weren't the most likable of characters. They did a really good job with the large monologues, had excellent vocals with variances and a wonderful stage presence. Suzy and Barry also looked stunning in their wedding costumes! Snapper dapper...

I think the case I saw this afternoon was a big case of "lost in translation". Filippo's work was always described and taught to me as a satire and it's supposed to be very funny to an audience. I've read translations of his work that were hysterical! But in this translation the characters came across as mean and manipulative rather than funny. Sometimes the actors would take a pause as if they were waiting for the laugh that never came. And that is no fault of them; I think it's the fault of the translation. The best of example of this is the "you all like women?" section. Not funny, sorry.  It came across as homophobic. I also thought it was very British for still being set in Italy. It had a lot of British slang words inserted into it.

The program had no information about who exactly did the translation or who owned the copyright on the translation but through some google research I found some info.
The program states that it premiered in 1998 at the Piccadilly Theatre starring Judy Dench. Through google I discovered this version was translated by Timberlake Wertenberger who also wrote the screenplay for Wings of the Dove, starring Helena Bonham Carter. (Enjoy that interesting fact of the day...) I don't care for the script. I thought the cast and crew did a very good job with it but were fighting an uphill battle with a mediocre translation that turned a comedy into a soap opera.

My favorite moment of the play is probably going to be an odd one for people to hear. It was a moment of simplicity and silence. I really enjoyed Adam Walker's simple slam on the table and DSR exit. The power of silence on the stage is a magical thing.

Another gem was Neil waxing poetically about his affection for a horse's ass. It was disgusting but one of the highlights of the play. Thank you Neil for performing that moment with such a look of love upon your face!

I liked the look of the set but I didn't enjoy the placement of the furniture, particularly the tables in the center of the stage. In Act Two and Three, the chairs had such high backs anyone who sat on the sofa or the arm-chair had half their faces cut off by the wooden chairs. When you had 3 people sitting at the table at once you couldn't see two of them because their heads were blocking each other when you sat on the sides of the house. A simple angling of the chairs would have corrected this problem.

Thrust stages are my favorite kind of theatre to watch and direct in. Because of this I am really picky when it comes to blocking. I know this. (I hope by this point, you are all aware of this.) 
I always make sure to sit on either the house right or house left because a good director blocks the play for all three sides, not just who is sitting in the front of the stage. I enjoyed Harris' use of the stage but I felt the scene design worked against him.

Because of the placement and the large size of the furniture the actors were repeating the same movement patterns over and over again. This caused some of the movements to seem unmotivated. The best example I can give of this is when Rosalia got up the sofa to touch Filumena's arm during her large speech in Act Three and then sat immediately back down on the sofa and then five minutes later did the exact same thing. Sofa, arm, repeat.

I did enjoy the fight between the boys in Act Two, I thought it was well choreographed and was one of the funnier moments in the show but I wish the moment before would have a larger crescendo to it as it seemed unmotivated vocally.

Overall, a good show for the actors involved. Certainly, a challenging one. Congrats to all that were involved! I enjoyed my time visiting Italy this weekend through the magic of the theatre. I wonder what the Italian Chamber shall put on next year? I hope they do a female playwright!

Viva Italia!

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