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Photo Preview: Dario D'Ambrosi's ROMEO AND JULIET

Italy's Dario D'Ambrosi, a radical innovator of the theater and founder of the movement called Teatro Patologico (Pathological Theater), will stage a novel version of "Romeo and Juliet" at La MaMa December 3 to 13. His interpretation is meant to contrast the marvel of love with the fragility of life, the shock of the moment of total loss, and what he calls a "schizophrenia of the world."

To do that, he must distill the beautiful sensuality and emotion of love into a magic moment. "It's like the magic moment when somebody shoots you," he says. "There is no emotion like that moment."

D'Ambrosi will compress the famous play radically because he thinks that theater is evolving into fast pictures. He says, "When somebody shoots you in war, life goes away in one second. That's the fragility of life. In a hundred years, people won't sit in the theater for an hour or two. The play will be like a flash in a store mirror. Momentary." He aims to make the full theatrical experience momentary.

This "Romeo and Juliet" will have a cast of four: two lovers and two supporting actors. The action is primarily physical but where there is dialogue, it will be in English. To say more would be to give away this radical, Artaudian, innovative production's dramatic surprises. Romeo will be played by Enrique Esteve and Juliet will be played by Ashley C. Williams.

D'Ambrosi writes, "I've been tormented by violent doubts for days, weeks, months. Then I thought about the way things are going in the world nowadays, about all these pointless wars, about death and how it gets you in a second; you don't even have time to say goodbye to your loved ones before you're gone. This globalized world has become so schizophrenic now that nobody is actually treating it any more as a pathological disease but as a completely normal condition of everyday life, like it was something familiar."

He adds, "I've been working for 30 years now with people with mental disabilities I can tell you that their pain, their desperation is somehow comparable to this play. I want this staging to be seen as a scream to humanity, as a way to ask the world to stop this barbarousness."


The NY Times' D.J.R. Bruckner wrote, "Any piece by Mr. D'Ambrosi is about each member of the audience. A viewer who surrenders disbelief for a moment will be carried away in an unimaginable world of chaos, wit, bewilderment, mirth, anger, disgust and a kind of sweet sadness, and will leave it with a sense of relief and loss." In the '80s and '90s, Dario D'Ambrosi marched irresistibly into the forefront of Italy's theatrical ambassadors, a cohort led by Pirandello, DiFilippo and Dario Fo. In 1994, he received the equivalent of a Tony Award in his country: a prize for lifetime achievement in the theater from the Instituto del Drama Italiano. D'Ambrosi first performed at La MaMa 27 years ago and has been in residence there nearly every year thereafter. In the US, he has also performed at Lincoln Center, Chicago's Organic Theatre, Cleveland's Public Theater and Los Angeles' Stages Theatre, among others.

Rosette Lamont wrote in Theater Week, "The yearly appearance of the Italian writer/performer Dario D'Ambrosi at La MaMa is cause for celebration." In a definitive essay, she traced D'Ambrosi's aesthetic to his close study of Antonin Artaud and Georges Bataille. Critic Randy Gener, writing in The New York Theatre Wire, stated "his theater is a form of social realism that is also an idee fixe. With unusual openness and frankness, his theatrical aesthetic openly embraces the extremity of their forms, emotions and ideas, and it is, thus, called teatro patologico."

D'Ambrosi's Teatro al Parco in Rome is currently located in a children's psychiatric hospital. He formed the Gruppo Teatrale Dario D'Ambrosi (since renamed Teatro Patalogico) in Italy in 1979.

D'Ambrosi's first international "Pathological Theater Festival" was held in 1988 in a mental hospital in Rome. The audience, he says, was made up of people who were normal and people who were sick, and you couldn't tell which were which. He also organized an acting unit in an adolescent ward and helped them put on a play, but unlike the Marquis de Sade in Peter Weiss' "Marat/Sade," D'Ambrosi did not invite anybody "normal" to watch. Subsequent festivals of this type have been open to the public and have helped raise money to help Italy's growing population of mental patients who have been "released" from institutions.

D'Ambrosi's La MaMa productions include a wide variety of notable works. "Cose Da Pazzi (Mad Things Out of This World)" (1995) was a play on useless technical theories of the psychiatrists and the deep state of alienation in which the psychiatric patient lives. "La Trota (The Trout)" had its American premiere at La MaMa in 1986 and was revived in 1997. In this play an old man, trapped by his fetishist acts, turns the trout he has purchased for dinner into a love symbol and the object of an inevitably doomed passion for life. "My Kingdom for a Horse (Un rengo per il mio cavallo)" (1996) was inspired by "Richard III." D'Ambrosi portrayed Shakespeare's villain as a schizophrenic fetus trapped in internal dialogue with his unloving mother. Ben Brantley (New York Times) hailed the production as a remarkable interpretation that "taps right into primal terrain most of us avoid exploring."

In 1998, D'Ambrosi adapted the Peter Pan story into "The Dis-Adventures of Peter Pan vs. Capitan Maledetto" which critic Randy Gener, writing in The New York Theatre Wire, called "the most utterly charming of D'Ambrosi's allegorical explorations of the irrational," warning "You'd be a fool to miss it." In 2000, D'Ambrosi celebrated 20 years of productions at La MaMa with a serial retrospective with three of his most singular plays: "All Are Not Here (Tutti Non Ci Sonno)" (1980, 1989), a solo performance in which an inmate from a psychiatric ward is victimized by neglect in the outside world, "Frustration (Frustra-Azioni)" (1994), a play on a butcher's psychotic obsessions, and "The Prince of Madness" (1993), a story of a crippled man selling human beings who in the end are revealed to be his family. "Nemico Mio" (1988, revived 2003) was a maverick Vladimir-and-Estragon-type play in which two inmates of a psychiatric hospital, one speaking and one mute, engage in elaborate, poetic fantasies of being at the beach.

In December, 2007, he revived his "Days of Antonio" (originally performed at La MaMa in 1981), a play based on the real incident of an insane boy who had been raised in a henhouse. Celeste Moratti starred in that play and in its subsequent film rendition, which has recently been completed in Italy. The New York Times (Jason Zinoman) credited her with "a boldly feral performance of a boy stuck between the worlds of the sane and the mentally ill and the human and the animal."

Mr. D'Ambrosi also sustains a prolific acting career. He played the Clown in Julie Taymor's film version of "Titus Andronicus" (1999) with Anthony Hopkins and Jessica Lange. He is director and co-author of "The Buzzing of Flies" (2003), a Hera International film produced by Gianfranco Piccioli, with Lorenzo Alessandri and Greta Schacchi (the latter co-starred with Harrison Ford in "Presumed Innocent"). In 2005, he was seen in "Ballet of War," about the clandestine immigration of Albanian people into Italy. But his most well known film appearance may be as the Roman Soldier who mercilessly whipped Jesus in Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ." The villainous part caused strangers to glare at him scornfully on the streets of Rome while the film was playing. Zachary Pincus-Roth, writing in the New York Times, reported that Mr. D'Ambrosio says he still has dreams in which Jesus - with the face of Mel Gibson - assures him that it was all worth it. The entire experience ultimately inspired him to create "The Pathological Passion of the Christ" (La MaMa, 2004 and film version, 2005), which was based on the idea that many of Jesus' contemporaries considered him insane.

Last Spring, D'Ambrosi created an original genre of live performance called "The Drive-In Stageâ„¢" and inaugurated it an hour-long thriller, "Night Lights," which was a site-specific performance on the block between Washington Street between Spring Street and Canal Street in SoHo. The play portrayed a precarious liaison between a female university professor and a male ex-convict in a city street. The audience of 40 viewed the live action from within parked cars, listening with headsets.

This month, D'Ambrosi is opening a new venue in Rome which will be a home for his resident company of professional actors and his drama school for psychiatric patients. Its productions will include collaborations from all over the world and it will be an opportunity for D'Ambrosi to tighten his bond with Ellen Stewart, Founder and Artistic Director of La MaMa.

Photo credit: Photo by Jonathan Slaff
Photo by Zita Bradley


Photo Preview: Dario D'Ambrosi's ROMEO AND JULIET
Enrique Esteve and Ashley C. Williams

Photo Preview: Dario D'Ambrosi's ROMEO AND JULIET
Ashley C. Williams and Enrique Esteve

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