First Floor Theater

May 6 - 9, 2004
Thursday – Saturday 8:00pm
Sunday 2:30pm

Dario D'Ambrosi, one of Italy's leading performance artists and originator of the theatrical movement called teatro patologico, returns to La MaMa May 6 to 9 in "Nemico Mio" (My Enemy) to share one of the most acclaimed works of his early career with a larger audience. The piece, which had its American debut at La MaMa in 1988, is a maverick Vladimir-and-Estragon ("Waiting for Godot")-type play in which two inmates of a psychiatric hospital, one speaking and one mute, engage in elaborate, poetic fantasies of being at the beach. Critics have hailed it as an astonishing piece of théâtre vérité, revealing the hair's breadth that separates the sane from the insane.

Dario D'Ambrosi played the Roman Soldier who mercilessly whips Jesus in Mel Gibson's controversial film, "The Passion of the Christ." Mr. D'Ambrosi's portrayal of the brutal soldier is now one of the most enduring images of the controversial film. He has recently been invited to have an audience with the Pope, as has the actor who played Jesus, James Caviezel. The film opens in Italy on April 12.

In conjunction with the La MaMa performance, there will be a press conference at the Italian Cultural Institute, 686 Park Ave., on Monday May 3 at 6:00 pm. At this gathering, Mr. D'Ambrosi will speak about his various theatrical projects in Italy, reminisce about the filming of "The Passion of the Christ," perform an excerpt from "Nemico Mio," and speak briefly upon his own recently-completed film, "Flies Buzzing" (Il ronzio delle mosche), a Hera International film produced by Gianfranco Piccioli, starring Greta Scacchi. (This was his first feature film as director and was written by Mr. D'Ambrosi and Armando Pettorano. It was screened at La MaMa last fall.) To RSVP, please call Giuliana Ridolfi at (212) 879-4242 x 324.

Dario D'Ambrosi is a former professional soccer player and recipient of a lifetime achievement award from the Instituto del Drama Italiano (equivalent of a Tony Award in his country). He played the Clown in Julie Taymor's film version of "Titus Andronicus" (1999) with Anthony Hopkins and Jessica Lange. His own film, "The Buzzing of Flies," a Hera International film produced by Gianfranco Piccioli, with Lorenzo Alessandri and Greta Schacchi (the latter co-starred with Harrison Ford in "Presumed Innocent"), opened this year in Italy. It was screened at La MaMa last November.

In "Nemico Mio," D'Ambrosi plays the garrulous, poetic and imaginative Giulio; Lorenzo Alessandri will play the mute, Tommaso (that role was performed in 1988 by Stefano Abbatti). Giulio, with his shaved head and wild green eyes, and Tommaso, a sad-faced man wrapped in a deflated orange rubber raft, are going to the beach in their pajamas. Giulio spreads out a beach blanket and settles down for an afternoon of sunbathing. Tommaso, after stalking and then capturing something out of the air like a wild animal, gapes at the audience with the incriminating stare of the mad. As the scene pulls back, it is revealed that the pair are in a padded cell and that the beach is a deliverance of their mind--as if to ratify R.D. Laing's statement that madness is nothing more than a desperate bid for liberty.

Giulio and Tomasso agitate themselves with summery reflections while awaiting their departure, which will never arrive. They fantasize pointedly and allude to past travels, although neither has ever seen the sea. Their reverie is occasionally interrupted by the staccato decrees of a despotic nurse over the loudspeaker. Giulio rhapsodizes how wonderful a life of everlasting summers at the beach can be. At one point, Tomasso produces a girlie magazine and both ogle the naked models rapturously; Giulio declares how wonderful it would be to make love to a young girl on the beach, in the afternoon, during a rainstorm. The images produced by this poetic and inspired madman has a thoughtfulness and a paradoxical lucidity. It makes the character both comic and tragic: he understands life a little too clearly, as when he says, "You fall in love with the situation, not the woman; the problem is when you fall in love with her brain. We always want to keep under control the brain of a woman we love." At the most frenzied point in this monologue, Giulio begs Tommaso to look inside his brain with a funnel because, "there are flies inside my brain. Now I know sometimes why I don't feel good. They are building beautiful cities inside my brain. Tommaso, why am I not normal?"

D'Ambrosi, whose dialogue fills the hour-long play, has always been able to hold the stage with his heavily accented yet lucid form of English, which he mixes with a sprinkling of Italian, giving American theatergoers the illusion that they are watching a play in Italian and understanding every syllable. The NY Times' D.J.R. Bruckner has written, "Any piece by Mr. D'Ambrosi is about each member of the audience. A viewer who surrenders disbelief for a moment will be carried away in an unimaginable world of chaos, wit, bewilderment, mirth, anger, disgust and a kind of sweet sadness, and will leave it with a sense of relief and loss."

This treasure of D'Ambrosi's repertoire slipped in and out of New York without widespread notice during its first production, but was lionized in its tour following the La MaMa engagement. The Los Angeles Times (Sylvia Drake) praised the actors as "flawless" and the play as "starkly meticulous" and successful beyond even D'Ambrosi's original idea. The Chicago Sun-Times (Joe Pixler) marveled how the play made the audience share the characters' pain and summoned up a genuine sense of anger against the inhumane treatment of society's outcasts.

In the '80s and '90s, Dario D'Ambrosi marched irresistibly into the forefront of Italy's theatrical ambassadors, a cohort led by Pirandello, DiFilippo and Dario Fo. In 1994, he received the equivalent of a Tony Award in his country: a prize for lifetime achievement in the theater from the Instituto del Drama Italiano. D'Ambrosi first performed at La MaMa 22 years ago and has been in residence there nearly every year thereafter. In the US, he has also performed at Lincoln Center, Chicago's Organic Theatre, Cleveland's Public Theater and Los Angeles' Stages Theatre, among others.

Rosette Lamont wrote in Theater Week, "The yearly appearance of the Italian writer/performer Dario D'Ambrosi at La MaMa is cause for celebration." In a definitive essay, she traced D'Ambrosi's aesthetic to his close study of Antonin Artaud and Georges Bataille. Critic Randy Gener, writing in The New York Theatre Wire, stated "his theater is a form of social realism that is also an idee fixe. With unusual openness and frankness, his theatrical aesthetic openly embraces the extremity of their forms, emotions and ideas, and it is, thus, called teatro patologico."

In interviews, D'Ambrosi has cited a debt to Commedia dell' Arte, explaining that the art form derived from "normal" people's view of the village idiots, or zanni, of whom Punchinella was a prototype. D'Ambrosi's Teatro al Parco in Rome is located in a children's psychiatric hospital. He formed the Gruppo Teatrale Dario D'Ambrosi (since renamed Teatro Patalogico) in Italy in 1979, the year a law was passed in Italy condemning the closing of state mental institutions, and lived for several months in a psychiatric clinic to better understand these extreme states. Later, in New York, D'Ambrosi spent further study hours in Bronx State and Bellevue's mental wards.

D'Ambrosi's first international "Pathological Theater Festival" was held in 1988 in a mental hospital in Rome. The audience, he says, was made up of people who were normal and people who were sick, and you couldn't tell which were which. He also organized an acting unit in an adolescent ward and helped them put on a play, but unlike the Marquis de Sade in Peter Weiss' "Marat/Sade," D'Ambrosi did not invite anybody "normal" to watch. Subsequent festivals of this type have been open to the public and have helped raise money to help Italy's growing population of mental patients who have been "released" from institutions.

D'Ambrosi's La MaMa productions also include a wide variety of notable works. "Cose Da Pazzi (Mad Things Out of This World)" (1995) was a play on useless technical theories of the psychiatrists and the deep state of alienation in which the psychiatric patient lives. "La Trota (The Trout)" had its American premiere at La MaMa in 1986 and was revived in 1997. In this play an old man, trapped by his fetishist acts, turns the trout he has purchased for dinner into a love symbol and the object of an inevitably doomed passion for life. "My Kingdom for a Horse (Un rengo per il mio cavallo)" (1996) was inspired by "Richard III." D'Ambrosi portrayed Shakespeare's villain as a schizophrenic fetus trapped in internal dialogue with his unloving mother. Ben Brantley (New York Times) hailed the production as a remarkable interpretation that "taps right into primal terrain most of us avoid exploring."

In 1998, D'Ambrosi adapted the Peter Pan story into "The Dis-Adventures of Peter Pan vs. Capitan Maledetto" which critic Randy Gener, writing in The New York Theatre Wire, called "the most utterly charming of D'Ambrosi's allegorical explorations of the irrational," warning "You'd be a fool to miss it." In 2000, D'Ambrosi celebrated 20 years of productions at La MaMa with a serial retrospective with three of his most singular plays: " All Are Not Here (Tutti Non Ci Sonno)" (1980, 1989), a solo performance in which an inmate from a psychiatric ward is victimized by neglect in the outside world, "Frustration (Frustra-Azioni)" (1994), a play on a butcher's psychotic obsessions, and "The Prince of Madness" (1993), a story of a crippled man selling human beings who in the end are revealed to be his family.
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