Oct 17, 2015

Coffeehouse Chronicles #128: Dario D’Ambrosi & Teatro Patologico

Curator: Michal Gamily

Moderator: James Levin

a black arrow pointing downward

Panelists: Dario D’Ambrosi  Alessandra Belloni, Manuela Filiaci, Fabio Granato

Performers: Dario D’Ambrosi and members of Teatro Patologico

Screening material from previous shows of Dario D’Ambrosi and Teatro Patologico

Coffeehouse Chronicles celebrates the 35th Anniversary of Teatro Patologico

Teatro Patologico was founded by Dario D’Ambrosi, one of Italy’s most distinguished theater artists, who has made a career of productions about people with psychiatric disabilities, devising productions that portray their unique perspective on life. His stunning and visceral version of Euripides’ tragedy debuted at La MaMa in 2011.  In 2012, it was presented at Wilton’s Music Hall in London and was awarded the Wilton Prize as Best Show of the Season.  It has also been awarded the “Lupa Capitolina” Award in Rome, a Mayoral honour.


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 in 1980 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.

D’Ambrosi’s La MaMa productions 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.

In December, 2007, he revived his “Days of Antonio” (originally performed at La MaMa in 1981), a play based on the real incident of an insane boy who had been raised in a henhouse.  Celeste Moratti starred in that play and in its subsequent film rendition, which has recently been completed in Italy.  The New York Times (Jason Zinoman) credited her with “a boldly feral performance of a boy stuck between the worlds of the sane and the mentally ill and the human and the animal.”

Mr. D’Ambrosi also sustains a prolific acting career.  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 villainous part caused strangers to glare at him scornfully on the streets of Rome while the film was playing.

In July 2009, D’Ambrosi created an original genre of live performance called “The Drive-In Stage™” and inaugurated it an hour-long thriller, “Night Lights,” which was a site-specific performance on the block between Washington Street between Spring Street and Canal Street in SoHo. The play portrayed a precarious liaison between a female university professor and a male ex-convict in a city street.  The audience of 40 viewed the live action from within parked cars, listening with headsets.

In December 2009, his production of a novel version of “Romeo and Juliet” portrayed the marvel of love with the fragility of life, the shock of the moment of total loss and what he calls a “schizophrenia of the world” with innovative and shocking stage effects.

Alessandra Belloni is an award winning percussionist/singer/dancer/actress/ teacher. She is also an author, and renowned in her field and travels worldwide to perform group and solo concerts in theaters, universities, and international percussion festivals. Belloni began her career in her native Rome with the great actress Anna Magnani in “La Lupa,” and with legendary film director Federico Fellini in “Casanova.” She is Artistic Director/Leading Performer of I Giullari di Piazza, Artist in Residence at the Cathedral of St John the Divine, an ensemble of musicians/vocalists/dancers that specializes in authentic Southern Italian music and theater events, dating back to the 13th century. Belloni is a REMO artist and designer of her signature series of Italian tambourines; she is also author of the book & DVD “Rhythm is the Cure,” published by Mel Bay. The only artist in the world who specializes in Southern Italian tambourines combined with singing and dance, Belloni was selected as one of the best percussionists in the world by DRUM! Magazine, and has been acclaimed in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, featured in Modern Drummer and Percussive Notes among others.

Manuela Filiaci was born in Vicenza, Italy and earned a BFA from the School of Visual Arts. She has been exhibited extensively in Europe and the U.S. and specifically has worked with Dario at La Mama  since the very beginning as artistic consultant (set, costumes, music etc). She was nominated for a Richard Diebenkorn
fellowship. She now lives and works in New York City.

Fabio Granato has cut an exceptional path in the restaurant business for the past 30 years. By the early 1990s, he begun developing a unique Italian restaurant concept: Serafina. Today, this internationally renowned concept-brand has become a favorite in New York City and in the world, celebrated in the press both for its cuisine and for its business model. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg personally supported a 2013 location opening, commending Serafina Restaurant for the quality of its offer, the high-profile clientele and the positive impact on the city economy. The concept has grown since, and is now considered a representative of the multicultural, edgy, sophisticated New York City brand. Mr. Granato has since diversified this US enterprise into an array of successful brands and Serafina franchises. And has ventured in varied fields and disciplines to undertake visionary projects.  

James Levin is a community activist, attorney, festival director, stage director, producer, professor, playwright, lyricist, and impresario. James Levin founded Cleveland Public Theatre in 1981. He produced most of the work at CPT from its inception until 2004 and launched such projects as: Performance Art Festival, New Plays Festival, Vaudeville 80’s and 90’s, American Indian Festival and DanceWorks, still the primary venue of modern dance in Northeast Ohio.  As a theatre artist he has been recognized repeatedly for his work as a playwright (two Ohio Arts Council Fellowships) as a director (“Best Director of the Year” Free Times), as a producer (multiple Northern Ohio Live “Best” Awards). As a lyricist, his songs have been included in several theatrical works, including “Let the Knowing Speak” a jazz cantata featuring Phil Wilson and Jon Hendricks. Levin co-founded and, from 2004 to 2011, served as the creative spark and director of Ingenuity, the Cleveland Festival of Art and Technology Ingenuity annually transforms downtown Cleveland into a wonderland of performance, exhibits and high tech installations, annually injects millions of dollars into the Cleveland economy. In 2007, he was awarded by the Ohio Arts Council the  “Governor’s Award” for his career work in community development and activism. In the spring of 2010 he was awarded the Cleveland Arts Prize recognizing his effort in launching the Gordon Square Arts District and in 2012 was awarded the Cleveland Arts Prize Bergman Award for “community impact.” In May of 2013 he was awarded the Gerson Social Justice Award for lifetime achievement by the Greater Cleveland Community Shares. New projects include the Cleveland World Festival, at Rockefeller Park, which celebrates Cleveland’s diverse cultural roots. In March of 2014 he founded and directs a new legal clinic in Glenville, Famicos CARES: LegalWorks. James practices law, with an emphasis on criminal defense and lives with his lovely wife Jill and three teenagers in Cleveland Heights.


Teatro Patologico was founded in 1992 and is directed by the founder and creator Dario D’Ambrosi. Since 1992, the Association focuses on a single and universal job, to find a contact between the theatre and mental illness. Teatro Patologico has presented his shows throughout the world including Paris, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Prague, Madrid, Monaco, London and particularly in the United States where D’Ambrosi presented his method of work at New York University, New York City, the Akron University of Cleveland and Haward University of San Francisco, where students of Drama still study the Pathological Theater. In Italy, 24 students of literature and psychology wrote theses about The Pathological Theater and it has won the golden ticket  in 1995 and the Prix IDI (Institute of Italian Drama) in 1996.

D’Ambrosi has had a theater named Teatro al Parco in Rome, located in a children’s psychiatric hospital.  He formed the Gruppo Teatrale Dario D’Ambrosi (since renamed Teatro Patalogico) in Italy in 1979.  Last October, D’Ambrosi opened a new theater in a converted warehouse in a norther section of Rome.  Named The Pathological Theater, it is home to his resident company of professional actors and a drama school for psychiatric patients. D’Ambrosi speaks excitedly about the theatrical possibilities of these newly-minted theater artists, whose purity of vision and  unencumbered passion make their work fantastically original, inspiring and well beyond the artistic reach of conventional theater.

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.

Since 1992, the Association has carried on the theatrical project “The Laboratory of Emotions” with excellent results. The major aim of the workshop is to stimulate the creative freedom of the children without affecting their imagination and their sensitivity. We have provided them the theoretical and practical means to express themselves through theatre, allowing everyone to find their own space in the theatre, choosing a specific artistic path (writing, acting, creating costumes or sceneography, music, etc…). Important to reach the perfect success of the project is the interaction between teachers, students, and social workers (who were involved in the activities of the course).

This project is not a form of therapy in which children are subjected, but it gives them a fantastic opportunity for artistic and emotional expression, a place in which to play and have fun, where the protagonists are disabled boys. Due to the potential that theatre offers, the work of the Association led to find that fine line between normal behavior and deviant behavior; artists, mental health professionals, mental patients, the audience, met in this space and gave birth to a unique artistic and social event. Working in a place like this, it is very different than working in a theatre, and all the artists that worked on have described their experience as “a magical thing”.

In 2006, the Region of Lazio granted a new space in Rome to become the new home of the Association of Pathological Theatre. Dario D’Ambrosi’s dream was then realized: to create a school of theatrical training for children with disabilities in the new home of the Pathological Theatre, a great laboratory where there is meeting and exchange of initiatives and projects. It was described in The New York Times (by Gaia Pianigiani, September 2014) as Europe’s first drama school for people with disabilities, who create original works of theater there as actors, designers and playwrights.  Fifteen teaching artists instruct sixty students, including people of all ages who are schizophrenic, catatonic, manic depressive, autistic, and born with Down Syndrome.  Many of these, the article relates, have broken through their isolation, found self-knowledge and made themselves understood through theater.

Coffeehouse Chronicles


Coffeehouse Chronicles is an educational performance series exploring the history of Off-Off-Broadway. Part artist-portrait, part history lesson, and part community forum, Coffeehouse Chronicles take an intimate look at the development of downtown theatre, from the 1960s’ “Coffeehouse Theatres” through today.

“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.”

~D.J.R. Bruckner, New York Times

“The yearly appearance of the Italian writer/performer Dario D’Ambrosi at La MaMa is cause for celebration.”

~Rosette Lamont, Theater Week

“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.”

~Randy Gener, New York Theater Wire

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