Sunday, January 2, 2011

La Casa di Signori

Peacock Theatre
Salamanca Arts Centre
As part of the Taste of Tasmania
December 29th 2010

Great potential, but in need of more cooking

It is wonderful to see Salamanca Arts Centre supporting the creation of local theatre for inclusion in the Taste of Tasmania – a festival which offers such a huge potential audience.

Writer/performer Marisa Mastrocola’s re-enactment of an Italian family dinner, as the backdrop for the telling of her own family stories, is a great and fitting choice to offer within this annual food extravaganza.

So, at the Peacock Theatre, a long table of family and friends enjoying a meal together is set diagonally across the stage as some of the audience join Mastrocola to become her family and guests. In a striking red silk dress, as the beautiful Italian Hostess, she welcomes us all, taking her place at the head of the table to lead us through a collage of incidents, characters and family history: personal stories she has gathered on a trip with her father back to his ancestral village. The wine flows and the soup is served as stories are interwoven with song – tales of her father and ageing Nona, of village life, goodbyes and many tears.

This is a wonderful idea and an inspired setting - the stories are varied, full of potentially interesting characters and at times I was transported, but unfortunately for the most part this show felt greatly in need of some clearer direction.

The split focus between the audience on stage and those in the tiered theatre seating created a very basic disconnection which was almost never bridged, and the set up of the story telling and introduction of the characters was confusing from the start.

Mastrocola is obviously a talented performer, and in the moments when she was able to free herself from the confines of the table to launch into lively Italian or to actually embody the quirky characters, rather than just talk about them, then the performance lit up. But most of the stories were narrated from the table, where her confinement seemed to suck the energy out of the performance. Sometimes it was difficult to follow the narrative, and clear definition was needed between the performer as hostess, and as storyteller.

The soundtrack, which varied from loud arias to live acoustic guitar, generally worked well but sometimes, like the stories themselves, felt misplaced and worked against the creation of atmosphere.

The highlight of the show was when Mastrocola finally escaped from the table to pull the curtain back and reveal the stone back wall of the theatre. She then narrated and enacted a touching tale of her father’s leaving, and of the bottles of tears her grandmother collected and kept hidden on the top of the cupboard. Heart-breaking, visually rich and totally captivating, this scene left me with a real sense of the show’s potential but also with frustration that so much was under-cooked.

I know how difficult it is to get support for independent theatre in Hobart and really hope that La Casa di Signori gets a chance for further development.
The stories and the performance hold such promise, which with dose of dramaturgy and some greater clarity in direction, could become a delicious piece of live theatre for Hobart audiences to savour in the future.

Gai Anderson

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