Editor's Note: How fascinating that Pirandello's work-- rarely produced in the USA-- is on stages in both Chicago and New York simultaneously! For more on Pirandello, read "Jennifer Jewell Presents RAISON D’ÊTRE: AN EVENING OF PIRANDELLO – Absurdly Affecting" and the related "Allison Plamondon Conversation– RAISON D’ÊTRE: AN EVENING OF PIRANDELLO Preview".
A simple girl in a simple white apron with lace hems and a muted red floral dress, fans herself with a Gigli record. As a victrola plays Italian opera in the background, the girl wanders around the room, stopping to lay on the chaise, fix her tight bun, or read a book while waving her legs behind her. At one moment, she looks out of the window, made only of a minimalistic blue paneled frame. Is she waiting for something? Passing the time? This lackadaisical lull ends when a small bell rings from another room. Time to get ready. As the lights fade to dark, and as the show begins, a pale light casts a shadow through the window frames, and the city streets below murmur and cackle.
Naked is a thought-provoking piece by Italian writer Luigi Pirandello. Written in 1922, and translated recently by Nina daVinci Nichols, Naked is a script that constantly deals with conflicting dichotomies. Fiction versus reality, young versus old, purity versus degradation, and the ramifications of words versus the intention behind them, are just a few of the themes bouncing around the Trap Door Theatre stage. We meet Ludovico Nota, played by Bob Wilson, an obsessively passionate and famed novelist, wisened by his age, but trapped and tormented by it. Upon reading about her in a romantically sympathetic journal article, Nota has brought home Ercilia Drei, who is played by Tiffany Bedwell with an intense aura of shame. One might draw similarities between Ercilia and Laura in Tennessee Williams’ Glass Menagerie: delicate, but inevitably soiled by life itself. Though these dichotomies are discussed in the script and unpacked through fascinating dialogue, they are never truly resolved, which is the sort of beauty that lies in Pirandello’s work. Fans of the more classical theater canon will definitely find something to enjoy in this production, but so will anyone who enjoys talking about life, and why we live it.
Like a Well-Oiled Ensemble
Philosophy aside, Naked is also an absolute laugh riot, kick-started boldly and driven throughout by Manuela Rentea, who plays Mrs. Onoria, Nota’s fiery Italian landlady. Perpetually out of breath, and at the top of her vocal range from her flighty and worrisome antics, Rentea had this theater-goer on the edge of his seat any time she was on stage. The production pushes and pulls in pacing in a very engaging way, which must be credited towards Kay Martinovich’s artful direction. The stage pictures from the show, as you can see from this article, could tell a story on all on their own. “Living statues", just as Pirandello would have wanted. A lot of humor also comes from the metatheatrical nature of the play. Though the acting is clean and fast paced, it can sometimes slant into melodrama. It is at these exact moments that the actors dig in their heels, and even comment on the ridiculousness of the situations. During one scene on this particular performance, some papers were knocked off of a writing desk. Without hesitation, Rentea swoops in to pick them up with intense passive aggression, only to be retorted cantankerously by Wilson. This goes to show that even in these off the cuff moments, the actors are on their game.
Trap Door Theatre Serves Up Cohesive Atmosphere
Technically speaking, in this actor/playwright's view, this production serves up a simple elegance that accents everything beautifully. A single wrought iron chandelier, a middle class luxury, hanging between sturdy wood rafters, and still life paintings gilded in ornate gold frames are just a few finely tuned treats for this viewer that set designer Nicholas James Schwartz and props designer Jacqueline Frole provide. The entire set is fronted by a wall ripped apart, a hole through which the flies of the audience can view from an outside wall. All the technical elements work the best together however in creating the play's enormous side character: the street. Every time a character opens one of the wide windows, the theatre fills with the scraping and grinding from outside. Yells, whoops, and hollers abound, juxtaposing the uncertain order inside with tribal noise.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Nora Lise Ulrey
TRAP DOOR THEATRE
1655 West Cortland Ave.
Chicago, IL 60622
September 20th - November 3th
Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8PM
All Photos by Chris Popio