Sunday, December 9, 2012

Time As Tyrant

The Clock/L’orogolio, part of the No Escape series, written by Dino Buzzati, directed by Laura Caporroti, produced by Kairos Italy Theater (KIT), at Cherry Lane Theater, New York City, November, 2012.

Tick, tock, tick, tock.  The relentless clock marks the seconds as they pass. Tick, tock. Measured, pitiless, unflinching, unforgiving. Its mechanical beat underlies the jagged, raw emotion that unfolds onstage.  One woman whose twisted, terrifying character is split between two actresses, is both delighted and compelled to murder her hateful husband.  She succeeds, but so does he.  Upon his death his soul inhabits the clock whose constant tick tock traps his widow in a miserable, other-worldly existence.  She is doomed to constantly relive her own darkest moments of hating him, devising his murder and carrying it out.

The set is sparse: two simple chairs face the audience on the right side and the left.  Between the chairs are several clocks on the bare wooden floor.  The two actresses keep to their respective sides of the stage, except at the very end of the play when their characters seem to have switched bodies.  Throughout the play, they each hold a telephone receiver with a long cord, connected to nothing.

The Clock poses questions without answers and presents confusion without clarity.  We know that the wife hates the husband enough to kill him, but we don’t know why.  We know that the power of the merciless clock is enough to drive her insane, but we don’t know if she was insane already.  We don’t know if his manipulating soul in the clock is proof of his malevolent nature, or a strange justice for the death of an innocent man.

Such a story walks invisible lines and forces the audience to follow and at times, run ahead, searching for sure footing.  Of course, surety never comes.  And isn’t that a mark of great storytelling?

For a story like this to be absorbing, the actresses need to be fearless and in total command of the material.   Here, Lucia Grillo and Amy Frances Quint mesmerized us as two sides of the same woman: Grillo embodied the aggression of anger and sexuality while Quint spiraled in fear.  Despite these differences, both sides of the character agreed that murder was the only solution.

Lucia Grillo, Photo by D. Condonesu

Grillo’s aggression sported many colors: an almost predatory sexuality and the deep misery that creates spitting anger.  She played with the phone receiver and cord almost as a cat plays with mouse.  The schemes brewing in her mind were almost palpable as she slowly poisoned her husband while encouraging him to have more.   At one point she screamed at her husband with such vehemence and repulsion that every head in the audience snapped to attention.   Grillo was all powerful, until the soul in the clock overtook her.

Amy Quint, Photo by D. Condonesu
Quint’s portrayal of the terrified aspect of the woman was such a thorough examination of fear that she actually came out the other side: her terror made her terrifying.  Pale and quivering, the phone cord wrapped ever more tightly around her neck.  We half expected a suicide at any moment.  Quint even crawled on her belly under her chair, trying to increase the distance between her and her husband.  The moment she understood that she would kill him rang like a bell.

As the woman’s character was split between two actresses, either of these portrayals in less capable hands could have been a one-note performance.  But each actress brought such nuanced understanding to their roles that neither personality was truncated.  Each was richly layered as they spiraled downward, deeper into madness and powerlessness.

The Clock/L’orogolio was directed by KIT founder and driving force Laura Caporroti.  She developed the material at World Wide Lab: A Director’s Feast, held in Brooklyn this summer.  “This is the most difficult and challenging piece by Buzzati,” says Caporroti. “It is impossible to perform it in a traditional way. At the World Wide Lab, we started with different exercises on the play’s words and objects and it became clear that the clocks and the phone were the focus of the play. Initially, the play was done separately in English and Italian. However, we improvised and tried to unify the two languages, and it worked much better.”

Who is Dino Buzzati?

Dino Buzzati (1906-1972) was a multi-faceted talent and leading figure in 20th century Italian literature.  He was a painter, poet and, from the age of 22 until his death, a journalist and crime news reporter for Corriere della Sera.  He wrote novels, plays for theater and radio, opera librettos, short stories, children’s books and was known as the Italian Kafka.  Perhaps his most famous work was the novel Il Deserto dei Tartari (The Tartar Steppe).

His writing style is often described as magical realism.  In his own words, Buzzatti understood that the “effectiveness of a fantastic story will depend on its being told in the most simple and practical terms.”

In the 1950’s Buzzatti created No Escape, a compilation of four works, each exploring women unable to control their own lives.  The works include The Clock, Striptease, The Switchboard Operator and Alone At Home.

What is KIT?

KIT is Kairos Italy Theater and is the preeminent Italian theater company in NYC.  Its mission is to create artistic exchanges between Italy, the US and the rest of the world.  KIT specializes in bringing works to New York stages that have never before been presented in the US.  Appreciation of these works is designed for everyone through KIT’s Double Theater Experience: one act performed in English and then in Italian.

KIT founder, actress, producer and director Laura Caporroti is always striving to expand KIT’s reach and deepen its relationship with the community.  To that end, KIT sponsors Italian cultural events such as the Italian Theater Festival and presents classes in Italian & Theater for children and adults. It is the theater company in residence at Casa Italiana Zerrilli-Marimo’ at NYU.

KIT productions are unexpected, thought- provoking and literate.  New York  is lucky to have KIT.

To learn more about KIT, click here.