Sunday, May 23, 2010

Italian journal, 15: to the theater


via Eumelo, Siracusa, May 23

WE LEFT RAGUSA with a little bit of regret. At least I did. The hotel had been comfortable, the technology all worked, I got a great haircut, the meals had been fine, and there hadn't been too many new things to think about. No temples, ruins, museums.

But you can't stay in one place forever, so we set the GPS to Modica, center of town, because Lindsey wanted to visit a cioccolateria there, and drove readily out of Ragusa, through maquis country, listening to Our Lady of the Dashboard with half an ear as she guided us through roundabouts and back roads.

At Modica, though, she went a little crazy, directing us down steadily narrowing streets until finally, even with both side-view mirrors tucked in, I was negotiating straightaways with only a couple of inches clearance on each side. Sharp turns were even worse, and you had to look out for stray dogs, old ladies scrubbing doorsteps, wrong turns leading to flights of stairs, and the like. I'd put a fresh shirt on this morning, but it was soon drenched.

At length, though, the chioccolateria, which proved to be worth it; and a very pretty little theater; and the odd old beige city plastered against its hillside, ugly new apartment buildings rising out of the 18th-century. And then a twenty-minute tour of Frigintini, where we knew there was a restaurant we wanted to try if we could only find it; and conversations with strangers as to where un ristorante da Maria Fidone might be; one guy says left, another says right, and finally there it is, but we can't eat for another hour, so we have to kill time in a small-town café listening to conversations among adolescents with loud voices.

After lunch Our Lady guided us through more back roads — sometimes I'm not so sure she's as efficient as she might be, but she always knows where she is, and never seems uncertain when giving directions: Turn left. Then turn right. Make a u-turn. Make a sharp right.

Today's destination was Syracuse, and we had tickets to the theater: Euripides' Hippolytus was being given, in an Italian translation, in the 4th-century (BC) Greek theater in which a number of Aeschylus's plays had been premiered. So the mind got a workout again.

I thought the play very effective, barring a couple of details easily overlooked (irrelevant score; unfortunate body-mikes). The staging was Robert Wilson-esque, bold, abstract, minimal. Costumes seemed appropriate. The chorus, of women for most of the play, was effective: uniformly (and beautifully) dressed and coiffed, well choreographed, effective singers and, when individuals stepped out for specific lines, effective actors.

The leads were effective, too: marvelous Phaedra and Nurse; impressive Hippolytus and Theseus; effective Messenger; dominant Aphrodite and Artemis. We've seen Racine's version of the play twice in recent years so the text was well in mind; the Italian translation seemed heightened but not overly so. (I followed along with an English translation of the Italian translation, provided in a handsome libretto; unfortunately the translation, apparently computer-generated, was ludicrous at best.)

The play lasted a little over two hours without a break, and our attention never wandered. The acting style was formal and histrionic but balanced and consistent; I thought it suited both setting and text. I come away from this text, though, wondering what Euripides had in mind. The story is immensely profound and its truths, it seems to me, hard to deal with. I think Euripides must have been aware of the inadequacy of the conventional apparatus his culture had developed to deal with psychology, sexual attraction, the meaninglessness of death, and the like; and that in plays like Hippolytus he's hoping to prepare his audience for the questioning they too will soon no longer be able to avoid.

Of course it's particularly though-provoking to see this play, and think about its "meaning," in the context of the last few days with their constant history lessons. We're so programmed, we humans, to think of our own time as being a norm of some kind, and even a constant norm; being reminded of the relatively frequent and sudden historical shifts attested to by these ruins we've wandered, we're that much more aware of the futility of this fallacy. So we're back to work, thinking again. I have to say, it feels good.

Photos: Campania, including Caserta, Herculaneum, Amalfi, and


Tràpani, Erice, Segesta and environs:


Sicily: south coast:

As always, our meals are recorded at Eating Every Day



Steven Patterson said...

Charles, do you know Frank D. Gilroy's THAT SUMMER, THAT FALL. A modern version of Phaedra set in Brooklyn. Even the playwright doesn't think it works, but it's a piece I've always loved. Thrilled to be living vicariously through your adventures these days.

Charles Shere said...

No, I don't know it. We saw O'Neill's Desire Under the Elms a couple of years ago, the same season and company as a terrific Phèdre, and were impressed with it. It's a fabulous subject, of course. I'll look for Gilroy — ashamed to say I've never heard of him.