Tonight at La MaMa, a last chance to experience a most extraordinary journey from Dante’s deathbed on a foggy morning of 1321 to reckoning with contemporary Italy. One can think of it as a theatrical dreamscape, a monologue, a stage poem, or a play, but fedeli d’Amore (Love’s faithful) a polyptych in seven panels for Dante Alighieri by Marco Martinelli and Ermanna Montanari is all of that and more.
With a voice containing myriad voices, Ermanna Montinari leads us through seven tableaux, where time and space contract and expand. A simple set consisting of a metal construction evoking a “scaffolding for our lives,” beautiful lighting, an explosive music score by Luigi Ceccarelli with live trumpet by Simone Mazzocchi, and film sequences upon which a lyrical and provocative text by director Marco Martinelli unfolds. Only a few simple yet complex and wheal-honed elements contribute to a theatrical performance of the highest order. Pure magic. All our senses captured, we enter a dreamlike dimension.
Dante Alighieri, the great poet and creator of modern Italian is taken down from his pedestal. We find him dying in exile, a refugee whose health is failing, as he just completed the last verses of Paradise, the conclusion of his Devine Comedy. The whole play hinges on moments of passage, life leading to death. In the first Tableaux, it is the fog that speaks to us as it enters throw an open window into Dante’s rose-colored death Chamber:
I am everywhere
I am here too
In the writer’s room
We then encounter, in succession, a demon who cries out from the ditch, a vision of life as a river of boiling blood) pointing to
taking a pose for the next photo
among the death of others.
Then the voice is that of a donkey, who has transported the poet:
feel like a wound
I wear the mark of the cross
on my back.
In the fourth tableaux, we meet another demon who cracks jokes, followed by a section called poignantly called Italy Kicks Itself:
there were Guelfs, and Ghibellines
Guelfs against Ghibellines
then the Guelgfs split among themselves
white against blacks
then the whites split among themselves
white against white against white
Is this what politics is?
As the play moves toward the end, the voice is that of Antoni, the poet’s daughter, who evokes her father’s and his friend’s steadfast commitment to poetry. Poetry is a lifetime commitment that turns Dante, and his fellow poets into love’s faithful as the title recites. The closing tableau, an ending without an ending, is a dying poet’s attempt to assess his legacy.
What have I given?
Is the comedy
too small a thing for you?
A mesmerizing performance, fedeli d’Amore sheds light on the relevance of Dante’s work today. More specifically, it points to a conception of history as a non-linear entity where events and cultural product don’t happen once and for all but instead exists in a continuum that can be traveled in two directions. At once lyrical and politically charged, the piece reinforced the irreplaceable role of live theatrical performance into the 21st Century.
Founded in 1983 and based in Ravenna, Italy, Teatro Delle Albe is one of Europe’s most influential contemporary theatre companies. They have earned worldwide acclaim for their approach to literature, staging, and vocal technique.
During an impressive and long career, far from crystallizing in a style or theatrical formula, Teatro delle Albe has continued to grow artistically and in its political relevance.
Ermanna Montanari has continually refined her stage presence and vocal technique (in the tradition of Carmelo Bene). In this performance, her many voices give birth to a musical score with a range from the devilish to the angelic. Marco Martinelli’s writing for the stage has become more spare, essential profound, a sort of poetry.
fedeli d’Amore is one stage of a much larger Teatro Delle Albe’s ongoing project on Dante’s Comedy.
In Italian with English subtitles, at La MaMa Experimental Theater, through January 28.
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