"Mr. D’Ambrosi has done something quite amazing"
- Jason Zinoman, The New York Times
Dario D'Ambrosi, the Italian actor/playwright and founder of "Pathological Theater," has, for 26 years, held a mirror up to our nature with plays about society's treatment of the insane. His next New York production will be "A Crazy Sound" in which six patients in an asylum create a symphony using the materials of their beds as instruments. The piece will be his second in which he will not appear, but direct an all-American cast.
D'Ambrosi, an actor and former professional soccer player, spent several months in the Paolo Pini psychiatric hospital of Milan in the period after the enactment of Law n. 180, the Basaglia law that closed the madhouses in Italy. His body of work now contains many plays based on clinical cases he watched during the period. "Crazy Sound" is unique among his plays of this genre: first, because it is largely musical, and second, because the author rarely dramatizes women's madness.
In "A Crazy Sound," there are six women with different types of mental pathologies (e.g. schizophrenia, paranoia, catatonic depression). All the patients are controlled by an evil nun. Within this setting, D'Ambrosi is crafting a play that recreates the night-time sounds and the situations of the hospital. What emerges is a bittersweet show, full of funny moments and surreal sounds, as nights in a madhouse are.
He says that this piece will not follow in the genre of his previous works, which were compared to Artaud. "The six characters, they sing, they make music, it's a happy show; there are Christmas trees; at the end, they all escape, with the help of the nun," he says.
D'Ambrosi's last turn as author/director was "The Pathological Passion of The Christ" (La MaMa, 2004), which he staged at La MaMa with an American cast in 2004 and made into a film later that year. This one will rehearse in New York beginning December 1.
The cast includes, as of this writing, Sheila Dabney, Lucy Alibar, Meredith Summers, Celeste Moratti, Emma Lynn Worth and Kat Yew. Music Director is John La Barbera. Sound Designer is Stefano Zazzera. Set and costumes are by Vittorio Terracina. Lighting designer is Danilo Facco. Assistant Director is Alessandro Corazzi.
Dario and cast of "A Crazy Sound" (L-R) Meredith Claire, Lucy Alibar, Sheila Dabney, Dario D'Ambrosi, Emma Worth, Kat Yew, Celeste Moratti
ABOUT DARIO D'AMBROSI
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. He is director and co-author of "The Buzzing of Flies" (2003), a Hera International film produced by Gianfranco Piccioli, with Lorenzo Alessandri and Greta Schacchi (the latter co-starred with Harrison Ford in "Presumed Innocent"). In 2005, he was seen in "Ballet of War," about the clandestine immigration of Albanian people into Italy. But his most well-known film appearance may be as the Roman Soldier who mercilessly whipped Jesus in Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ."
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." 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 24 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. "Nemico Mio" (1988, revived 2003) was a maverick Vladimir-and-Estragon-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.