Friday, March 4, 2011

Theater Review: IATI’s Adaptation of “La Strada” - By Ely Rosa Zamora (HNYP)

Federico Fellini’s film La Strada (1954) was part of the late Neorealism movement that revolutionized Italian films after World War II. The story, arguably simplistic, depicts the lives of a couple in a traveling circus in rural Italy. A man named Zampano gives money to a poor widow in exchange for one of her daughters, Gelsomina, to “help” him with his circus. Gelsomina’s sister, who also worked for him, has died and we never know why or how. Zampano and Gelsomina leave and along their journey, he abuses her on all levels: emotionally, physically and sexually. In other words he lies to her, he cheats on her, he beats her, he rapes her. She tries to escape but he finds her, beats her up and forces her to come back. She learns to serve him, helps him with his business (a very pathetic circus-like spectacle) but nothing pleases him. He continues to abuse her. At some point she meets a clown from another circus (Matto), who seemingly becomes interested in her. When Zampano learns of it, he threatens him with a knife and ends up in jail.

This is Gelsomina’s opportunity to escape, but she doesn’t. She is emotionally trapped. Zampano gets out of jail, goes after Matto and kills him. After witnessing this scene, Gelsomina has a breakdown and never recovers from it. So Zampano abandons her on the road in the middle of the winter. He continues his journey without her and towards the end we discover Gelsomina’s fate. Apparently a family found her and took care of her but she was so depressed she wouldn’t eat and she died.

This is 1954. Another tragedy of gender based abuse with a postwar economic background. But, is this 1954?

The theme of “La Strada” is so painfully current that a new company, inspired by and named after the movie, has decided to explore new possibilities of the story by bringing a theatre version to the Spanish community in New York. Actor Luis Carlos de La Lombana (who won an ACE Award for his interpretation of Segismundo in Repertorio Español's production of La Vida es Sueño) writes on the program: “Beyond all, this is your own 'strada,' yours dear reader. Do not confuse your path with that of others.”

The goal of the recently founded company is to create a bridge between actors from Spain and Latin America in New York. They have invited experienced directors René Bush, founder and artistic director of Repertorio Español and Jorge Merced, artistic director of Pregones Theater, both very important figures in New York's Latino theatre, to direct their first production, and IATI Theater has welcomed them in their space on 64 East 4th Street.

The actors are well trained with the clown technique and deliver a neat performance. The music, played live by Jennifer Harder (trumpet) and Norah Vada (violin) is incredibly beautiful and evokes the nostalgic tone in the original movie. In general this Spanish adaption of “La Strada” focuses on the relationship between Zampano and Gelsomina to show us, once again, some of the tragic failure of our human condition.

At IATI Theater, 64 East 4th Street, Manhattan. Running through March 6. Presented in Spanish, with English subtitles. From Wednesday February 23 through Sunday March 6. For more information, click here  or call (212) 505-6757.

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