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LETTERS TO EDITOR
A CurtainUp London Review
by Lizzie Loveridge
Così è pare! (se vi pare) here translated in a new version by Martin Sherman as Absolutely! [perhaps] is a play which examines a community's fascination with other peoples' lives. Martin Sherman's lucid translation is a great plus apart from the terrible title which normally translates as Right You Are (If You Think You Are). The play, amazing for 1917 with its links to the absurbists of the 1950s, explores reality and illusion with the figure of Lamberto Laudisi (Oliver Ford Davies) acting as narrator and author, asking the teasing questions about who we are and what we seem. Who is telling the truth? Who believes they are telling the truth? Can more than one version of events be true?
The central problem is this. Into this small town from another destroyed by an earthquake have moved three people, Signora Ponza (Darrell D'Silva) and his wife (Hilary Tones) and Signora Frola (Joan Plowright). Signora Frola claims that her son-in-law, Signor Ponza, is preventing her from seeing her daughter. Signor Ponza claims that his mother-in-law is mad, that she thinks his second wife is her daughter but that herdaughter was his first wife who died. The townspeople are gossips fascinated by the story, they voraciously consume each piece of additional information in an attempt to solve the puzzle.
With a light touch, Joan Plowright plays the sweet mother in law, a gentle figure who is anxious not to condemn Ponza but apologises for his mistake. This approach of course gives her credibility or means that she is a very clever liar. Darrell D'Silva rages as Ponza, obviously exasperated by the situation. Oliver Ford Davis is a real star with his elderly wisdom and bonhomie, chuckling at the confusion the Ponzas create and scribbling away onstage representing Pirandello himself. I liked the Sirelli couple, Anna Carteret as the sex starved middle aged woman, and Gawn Grainger as her emasculated husband. Liza Tarbuck is convincing as the busybody Signora Amalia.
I found the direction artificial and bizarre in places, highly stylised -- for instance the synchronised craning of necks. I did not understand why, other than to remind us of the artificiality lest we drift into thinking what is on stage, is real. The director has compared the play to a puzzle, a maze with many dead ends. So as designer, Zeffirelli has set it against a busy backdrop of a mosaic patterned like a maze in reds and turquoises and greens. Placed in front of that is a brass metalwork grid, again on the theme of a maze and huge mirrors line the ceiling and both sides of the stage, reflecting the theatre lights. On stage to the side rear are two rows of ordinary theatre seats some of them filled with ordinary members of the audience. In front for the use of the actors are more theatre seats, covered in multicoloured dralon, red and pink and mango and sage and emerald and bright yellow. Presumably the point is to merge who are players and who is audience but the relevance is overstated. The effect looks as if it has been designed not by the great Zeffirelli but by someone with severe red-green colour vision deficiency. Add the eclectic costumes from maybe the 1970s and the effect is visual cacophony. Only the three central figures from the mysterious Ponza family are dressed in black and white in the period the play was written, 1917.
The ambivalent ending offers no easy solutions but Oliver Ford Davies' character seems to enjoy it immensely. I found it an amusing evening if not a great play.
Mendes at the Donmar
Peter Ackroyd's History of London: The Biography
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
At This Theater
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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