Mourning, swimming, celebrating in ‘Le sorelle Macaluso’ at Montclair State University
'Le sorelle Macaluso'
Written and directed by Emma Dante
Compagnia Sud Costa Occidentale
Written and directed by Emma Dante
In Sicilian and Apulian dialects with English supertitles
The Alexander Kasser Theater at Montclair State University, 1 Normal Ave.
• Sicily as a Theater of the World, Wednesday, Nov. 15, 6:30 pm
Feliciano School of Business, Lecture Hall 101
Dante in conversation with Teresa Fiore, Inserra Chair in Italian and Italian American Studies at Montclair State. Members of Emma Dante’s company (Compagnia Costa Sud Occidentale) will be present at the venue to provide their perspectives.
• Live Literature, Friday, Nov. 17, 2:30 pm
Alexander Kasser Theater Lobby
With PaulA Neves (poetry) and Judy Hall (memoir), celebrating Emma Dante’s Le Sorelle Macaluso
• Community Conversation, Saturday, Nov. 18, post-performance discussion
Alexander Kasser Theater
By GWEN OREL
A sister dies.
And yet she stays.
“We lose people, but they stay with us,” Teresa Fiore says.
Fiore, the Inserra Chair in Italian and Italian American Studies at Montclair State University, was instrumental in bringing “Le sorelle Macaluso,” a play written and directed by Emma Dante, to Peak Performances, where it plays next week.
A funeral for one of seven sisters opens the play, which makes its American debut at MSU. The title in English is “The Sisters Macaluso.”
The 70-minute performance, in Italian with English supertitles (created by a Montclair State University student, now studying in Italy), has a short script — not even 20 pages.
That’s because much of what happens on stage is physical, rather than expressed in words.
A trailer for the performance shows actors tumbling gymnastically.
The production next week at Peak Performances marks the first time Dante herself has come to America (a production once came without her).
The show has been performed in Chile, Mexico, Brazil and Italy.
It has an international pedigree: “Le sorelle Macaluso” is a co-production of Teatro Stabile di Napoli, Théâtre National (Bruxelles) Festival d’Avignon, and Folkteatern (Göteberg), in collaboration with Atto Unico/Compagnia Sud Costa Occidentale, in partnership with Teatrul National Radu Stanca-Sibiu.
Dante’s company, Compagnia Sud Costa Occidentale, was founded in the 1990s in a Palermo cellar, according to a release and is “as much a laboratory as it is a theater.”
The production at MSU is a collaboration of Peak Performances with the Inserra Chair in Italian and Italian American Studies and the Italian department at MSU.
In an article for the Peak Performances catalog, Fiore writes that Dante asks the viewer to see the borders Dante’s work crosses and embraces:
“The impalpable partition between light and darkness, the rim of the bed morphing into a trampoline to jump into the void, the invisible edge where the sea meets the sand.”
Fiore writes that Dante’s work adds “gender consciousness” to the physical theatrical innovations of Jerzy Grotowski, Antonin Artaud, and Tadeusz Kantor.
The physicality in “Le sorelle Macaluso” is typical of Dante, Fiore said.
“Her whole technique is about pulling out of the body as much as possible, emotionally and physically,” Fiore said. “Her plays always explore visceral needs, the extreme expressions of emotion. The body is absolutely necessary in the process.”
The piece can almost be seen as a dance with text, the professor said. The production is minimal. There are bright costumes, and a few shields, props inspired by Sicilian puppets: “They transcend the specific meaning. They can be shields for life. They represent the fight that life is all about.”
SICILIAN, AND UNIVERSAL
The play is also lyrical, Fiore said. “It’s about the interplay of life and death. The conversation between the living and the dead is what interests her.
“[Dante is] very attentive to families without work, not just working-class families. They are people that have been dispossessed, deprived, left at the margins. At the same time she’s able to sublimate all of this, thanks to her exploration of deep ties and intense emotions that link them.”
Despite the loss in the family, the play reveals playfulness, aliveness, she said. The intersection is “inspiring. It reminds us of the relentless ability of human beings to regenerate themselves, even in the face of such conditions.”
Dante’s work is local to Palermo, which is also where Fiore is from, but the way Dante addresses loss, death, jealousy, competitiveness and anger makes the work “human, regardless of specific references.”
The Sicilian and Apulian dialects are important because they emphasize viscerality, but “these bodies are able to speak to any language.”
Fiore is eager to see how an American audience will respond to the piece. Americans are always interested in Italy, she said. “I think Emma [Dante] offers a look at the intensity of the south that people are attracted to.”
The supertitles for the production were created by Marta Russoniello, supervised by Fiore and by Marisa Trubiano.
That is not a coincidence: Fiore explained that creating English supertitles has been an ongoing project for the Italian program.
Language acquisition linked to audio-visual translation is a focus of the program, Fiore said. To create supertitles, Russoniello had to translate the script, then condense it and create phrases that would work at the right time.
For example, in the situation where the father Antonio reprimands his daughters, before their first outing to the beach, his original line in Sicilian is “Bottana d’a miseria, dumani matina vuavutri a mari ‘un ci iti! ‘U capìstivu?” The literal English translation is: “Whore-like misery, tomorrow morning none of you will go to the beach! Do you understand?” And the English supertitle is “Goddam it! Tomorrow morning, no beach for you! Got it?”
Fiore said in an email, “This is an example of condensation — every letter and space counts since the goal is to fit everything in one line (maximum two) and of specific length.” She continued, “In the English, the ‘miseria’-centered exclamation is softened by giving less prominence to ‘puttana’ (whore) which is so common in numerous Italian curses but not as effective in English.”
The link between “The Sisters Macaluso” and Montclair State University dates back to 2015 when students and professors in the Italian program developed the English surtitles for the play at the prestigious Piccolo Teatro di Milano for the Expo calendar.
Having the production now come to MSU is “what we had desired from the beginning. It is a dream come true,” Fiore said.