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August 9, 2013 7:16 pm
It’s 1916 and Pirandello’s sun-baked patch of Sicily is populated mainly by women. Most of the men have gone to America; only two of note remain. Ageing Simone is an impotent, rancorous miser, with a wife called Mita and no heir. By contrast, young Liolà makes love to all the girls. Not rich, he is irresistibly fertile, with three sons from three different ladies and – you’d think – more to come.
Alas, pretty Mita has always loved Liolà – and so does jealous Tuzza, another village girl, who detests Mita and plots against her. It ought to end badly, like a play by Lorca or – for that matter – most of Pirandello’s.
But the playwright was on unusually light-hearted form with this one. Libertines tend to be despised. Not Liolà. For all his social misdemeanours, nearly everyone adores him – and this is potentially irksome. Hearts may flutter at his coming but Liolà “ruins” girls. Is this a misogynistic play? According to the facts, the hero is a gross, unrepentant philanderer – so, yes. On stage, however, he is more than that. Liolà is established as a “bird on the wing”, an ecstatic beacon of freedom and fecundity and a “good dad” to boot. “I’m no deviant,” he says. “Pure nature, me.” At worst, the poor lad is a wayward angel who suffers from satyriasis.
Richard Eyre’s production is finely balanced between anguish and farce. It’s like watching Chekhov in Mediterranean light, fused with whirling tarantellas.
Tanya Ronder’s adaptation – poetic and full of juicy peasant dirt – meshes well with Orlando Gough’s “gypsy” songs. And Anthony Ward’s set – blue skies, crumbling plaster and an ancient almond tree – is sparse and beautiful.
The cast is Irish – which works well. Somehow it’s easy to believe in a peasant from Agrigento with a lilting voice from Donegal. (Imagine one with the vowels of Eton College.) The ensemble is gutsy and time on stage is relished – especially by Aisling O’Sullivan as Mother Croce, a tigress on the brink of hysteria.
Rory Keenan is a fine Liolà too. His cocky good nature is more pronounced than his raw virility, and romantic (drippy) lines – such as “everything perishes except music and love” – come trippingly off the tongue.
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