“Very Nearly Midday”: Teatro Franco Parenti

Margaret Rose in Milan

As I write this report in early June [2021], lockdown is gradually easing. Some Milanese theatres have already re-opened but with audience size severely reduced due to social distancing regulations and the hesitancy of people to frequent indoor venues. In a determined attempt to recoup revenue, several theatres have announced a mini-season of three months spanning June to August: this is a fundamental change of policy because July and August are usually a time when city theatres go dark and summer festivals take over.

 

Goliarda Sapienza and Roberto De Francesco in Very Nearly Midday.
Photo credit: Mario Spada.

 

I attended a press conference at Milan’s Teatro Franco Parenti where director Andrée Ruth Shammah has organized a summer season of plays, music, and dance in addition to a surprising initiative – the inauguration of Radio Parenti, a reflection of Shammah’s vision for the future. This audacious project, which includes a busy radio station alongside the everyday bustle of a major theatre, will be the first of its kind in Italy. Daily programmes and podcasts will give Shammah and her many contributors an opportunity to showcase “the world of theatre on radio”. Listeners will be able to tune in to new plays, archived materials – in the 40 years since the Parenti Theatre was founded, major practitioners and celebrities have worked there – and a multidisciplinary arts programme. The radio, Shammah stressed, will not offer daily news bulletins but rather interpret current affairs and significant artistic events, past and present. If all goes as planned, the radio should provide Milan with a major arts hub.

The Teatro Franco Parenti re-opened its doors after the second lockdown with Il filo di mezzogiorno (Very Nearly Midday) directed by celebrated film and theatre director Mario Martoni. The play draws on Goliarda Sapienza’s eponymous autobiographical novel (Garzanti: Gruppo Editoriale Mauri-Spagnol, 1969). Born in Catania, Sicily, Sapienza (1924-1996) was an unconventional independent figure and a lifelong feminist. After World War Two, she worked as a theatre and film actor, helping to shape the New Realist wave of Italian cinema in the 1950s. The following decade was not so fortunate; Sapienza suffered a nervous breakdown, tried to commit suicide, and was interned in a psychiatric hospital where she suffered severe memory loss due to electroshock treatment. It was thanks to a period of psycho-analysis that she managed a slow recovery, going on to make a second career for herself as a writer. Il filo di mezzogiorno, an autobiographical novel, gives voice to what was a particularly harrowing time in the author’s life.

 

Goliarda Sapienza and Roberto De Francesco in Very Nearly Midday.
Photo credit: Mario Spada.

 

Sapienza’s account has been deftly adapted for the stage as a two-hander by dramatist and screenwriter Ippolita Di Majo. The play is set in Sapienza’s comfortable middle-class sitting room where the therapy took place. At the opening. the protagonist is dishevelled and wearing a long white nightdress, while her analyst is dressed in a daytime suit. She is lounging on a sofa: he, in a nearby armchair. The sitting room, the blocking of the characters, Sapienza’s night attire, and not least the set which includes not one but two symmetric sitting rooms (one representing reality, the other the unconscious) signal that this is not necessarily a conventional psychoanalytical session but perhaps a dream. The adaptation consists of a sequence of short intense exchanges between analyst and patient, with the lighting indicating the beginning (at midday) and the end of each therapy session. Gradually, Sapienza’s past comes back to her, and she starts challenging the therapist’s authority. Then their relationship grows tangled, since she falls in love with him and he with her, making it impossible for them to continue the therapy. In the end he makes a startlingly dramatic exit, leaving his patient alone for the epilogue. Sapienza’s final remark is. “Each one of us has the right to live the life they desire, everyone has their own secret and death.” She tells us that she is now ready to begin her life again, having reached much greater self-awareness. Donatella Finocchiaro as Goliarda Sapienza, magisterially embodies this feisty woman in her search for a new identity, while Roberto De Francesco, the analyst, authentically facilitates her discovery.