It would seem that our very own Italian Department has kidnapped William Shakespeare, the father of English literature, and tied him up in the Romance Languages and Literature common room with some new linguistic duds. In a brief but wonderful play called “Shakespeare in Italia,” Italian students, in collaboration with the department, have chosen to perform a selection of powerful scenes from three works of the bard: Giulio Cesare (“Julius Caesar”), Romeo e Giulietta (“Romeo and Juliet”), and La bisbetica domata (“The Taming of the Shrew”).
Upon sitting down to watch the play, I haughtily thought that some element of Shakespeare’s magic would certainly be lost in translation, and yet, at curtain’s last call, I discovered that Bruto guards the same secrets as Brutus, Giulietta feels the same tragic love as Juliet, and Caterina’s wit is no less than Katherine’s.
As the lights click off, the classical features of the RLL common room descend into a cool blue, the murmurous haunt of morning crickets filling the silence. On stage, Bruto (Tony Liu ’20) flips worriedly through the pages of books. His wife, Porzia (Emma Distler ’19), enters, and the two dive into a delightful new rhythm on Shakespeare’s staple iambic pentameter. Liu and Distler move vehemently around Bruto’s secret plan to kill Casare, their lines alternating between fine floridity and crisp freshness.
The portending peril of the scene from “Giulio Cesare” transitions well into the tragic release of “Romeo e Giulietta,” as actors Distler and Jaquelin Aroujo ’19 play the roles of Giulietta and la nutrice (the nurse). “La bisbetica domata” then follows, with Davide de Falco (as Petruccio) and Hannah Skopicki ’18 (as Caterina) bringing a fiery, comedic end to the Italian spectacle. Ultimately, the actors and directing manage to bring yet another new twist to old, timeless Shakespeare.
“We wanted to stay as true to Shakespeare’s original text as possible, but we also wanted to give a new spin on things,” said Skopicki, one of the registi (directors) for this captivating culture clash.
The six-person bilingual company accomplishes this spin exceptionally well, especially in dealing with the Italian-based settings.
“All of the these plays that we’re putting up take place in Italy,” said Skopicki, “We wanted to give a new authentic take on the setting.”
Though we don’t often think about it, language is, in a way, one of the most central elements of setting. The play’s decision to tie Shakespeare’s language to the land feels both simple and genius.
This play, however, does not stop at the language itself, but manages to achieve its enchanting effect at every level of production. Even the lighting seems to have some magical quality, two lone bulbs and sparse string lights providing a wonderful dream-like effect.
“We wanted to bring the warmth of our scenes through just practical ways that aren’t necessarily traditional stage lighting,” said Skopicki.
Another impressive element from the play is its choice in scenes. A strong emotional connection persists throughout the three, not to mention a sense of affective fluidity, despite their lack of plot relation.
“[The scene choice] was a collaborative effort between all of the production team so we wanted to show a variety of different emotions, a variety of different works, and of different time periods and cities in Italy,” Skopicki said. “One of our scenes takes place in Rome, another in Verona and other in Padova, so we’re really transcending the entire peninsula there.”
Skopicki directed this spring’s performance after tackling the role for the Italian Department’s play last year, Dario Fo’s “Non tutti i ladri vengono a nuocere.” Though you would never know it, this cast actually features a few members who are new to the stage, as well as a few new to the language of Italian. They blend in seamlessly, with fine acting all around.
Emma Distler, who’s listed as an “aiuto regista” (assistant director) for this play, talked about her experience performing in this season’s and last’s show.
“Being an actress is definitely intense but at the same time very fun, especially with memorizing in Italian,” said Distler. “You kind of begin to think in a different language, so it’s fun then just to act it all out.”
While the play’s language is “different” for some, one actor felt right at home on stage in the RLL lounge.
“It’s been really an honor for me to perform in this play that’s actually in Italian,” said Davide de Falco, an international student from Italy. “As an Italian TA, performing with these guys has been amazing.”
Davide also had one last pitch.
“Come to the show guys, even if you have no idea how to speak Italian [like the writer of this particular article], just come.”
The play will run this Friday the 28th at 7 p.m. in Romance Language and Literature (RLL) common room. Non-Italian speakers will be welcome, and subtitles are provided for the inept (such as your reporter).