Many writers have detailed our grotesque capacity for war. When citizens are drafted into the military, a bizarre synthesis can take place between scholarly rationalisation and all-out barbarism. A similar scenario unfolded during World War I, with modernist writer Carlo Emilio Gadda chronicling his encounters as an infantryman.
Writer/performer Fabrizio Gifuni creates a visceral, pulsating theatrical experience in this conquering monologue. Performed in Italian with English surtitles, it delves into the academic complexity of Gadda’s writing, as director Giuseppe Bertolucci makes theatre out of essayist approaches to life and scolds the abhorrence of combat. The text frequently wanders into forms of Beckettian absurdism, grappling with the abstraction of death but equally trying to articulate its purpose.
Seldom can theatre pay true tribute to literary goliaths; this however is an attempt worth remembering. Gifuni takes us on a journey through Gadda’s lieutenancy, as he reflects on the intelligence of his comrades and commanders. He debates the lunacy of warfare, the senselessness of death and the futility of victory; it’s a version of history which deals with deeply moral (and specifically Italian) sentiments, sometimes too difficult to even express. This is before analysing what motivates us, from notions of the Ego-Cock to the overriding power of procreation.
Some elements are almost impenetrable, sealed behind linguistic and idiomatic barriers – many of which were invented by Gadda himself as he experimented with dialectics and Italian argot. Though this play has been masterfully translated to defeat language constraints, the might of the original text is sometimes trivialised by the inelegance of the English register. But this is soul-bearing, valiant theatre, which delivers anguish through poetry and new ideas through total deconstruction. Most of its success rests on the shoulders of Gifuni who gives a sensational performance, echoing the brutality of Silvia Gallerano’s monologue in The Shit. It is a foray into the pre-Mussolini era, addressing the national state during the rumblings of Fascism and battering the watery tendencies of western socio-political thought.
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