As the small audience shuffled into the theatre we were met with the sight of the two actors on stage dressing for the show and arranging the props. The woman welcomed us and engaged the audience members in conversation, asking us what shows we had been to and generally making us feel at home. The play started almost without us noticing and we were soon caught up in the story and the lives of the two characters.
It is set in an apartment block in Rome in 1938 on the day of Adolf Hitler’s first visit to Fascist Italy and its leader, Mussolini. The day has been declared a national holiday and it seems everyone in Rome is going along to witness and celebrate the historic visit. Everyone except downtrodden housewife Antonietta who is staying behind to cook and clean as always for her husband and six children, and the mysterious new tenant in the apartment across the road.
The set is simple and effective, three blackboard walls onto which the characters draw and rub out the set as they go along – the furniture, the windows, the family pet parrot. When the parrot escapes through the window Antonietta rushes downstairs after him and into the apartment of the stranger whom she unwittingly saves from committing suicide. A friendship develops but this is not a frustrated housewife meets handsome young man romance, it is a touching and bittersweet drama that forces them both to confront and challenge their beliefs and lives. Antonietta is a big fan of Il Duce, she keeps a scrapbook of articles and photos about him. However, she doesn’t really understand what the real impact of fascism is until she meets Gabriele.
The play is based on the 1977 Oscar nominated film, Una Giornata Particolare, with Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni. It is well acted, sincere and sympathetic, and, although performed in English, the two Italian actors are still able to evoke a palpable sense and feel of Italy. Worth a look.