Napoli Milionaria!, Eduardo De Filippo's comic masterpiece, begins previews today, marking its first Stratford presentation. Directed by Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino, the production opens on August 17 at the Avon Theatre.

In this sparkling and warm-hearted comedy, in a new English-language version commissioned by the Festival from Canadian playwright John Murrell, based on a literal translation by Donato Santeramo, a Neapolitan family prospers from the black market during the Second World War. But even as the money flows, community ties are tested and a moral price must be paid.

The family is headed by Gennaro and Amalia, played by Tom McCamus and Brigit Wilson. The cast also features Michael Blake as Errico, Shruti Kothari as Maria Rosaria, Tom Rooney as Riccardo Spasiano, André Sills as Brigadiere Ciappa and Johnathan Sousa as Amedeo.

The creative team includes Designer Julie Fox, Lighting Designer Michael Walton and Sound Designer Thomas Ryder Payne.

"Many years ago, I read and fell in love with Napoli Milionaria!," says Cimolino, who has a great passion for De Filippo's work, having directed Richard Monette in Filumena in 1997. "At a quick glance, it may appear to be just a black market comedy; but even taken as such, it is evident that this is a work with a deeply moral purpose. Written in wartime about wartime, it examines the impact of corruption and dislocation on a family and, by extension, a community.

"When I first read it, I suspected it would be difficult for an audience today to understand the world of Naples in 1942-1944. But the events of recent years - among them, the Arab Spring and the ongoing crisis in Syria - have made me feel otherwise. The spark that ignited the Arab Spring was the self-immolation of a young street vendor in Tunisia in protest against the corruption and cruelty of government officials. Like the Italian fascist regime of the first act of Napoli Milionaria!, the Tunisian government had created a world in which honesty was rewarded with poverty and humiliation.

"Despite his play's serious subject matter, De Filippo has an eye for the absurd and the comic in the direst of situations. In his world view, it seems the essence of being human is a frailty that creates, in equal measure, both tragedy and comedy. His examination of social issues isn't driven by a political, philosophical or religious agenda. His focus is on the personal and its connections to the community. What is our personal responsibility to care for our children, our friends and our neighbours?"

Napoli Milionaria! opens on August 17 and runs until October 27 at the Avon Theatre.

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