Aspettando Nil (Waiting for Nil)
nytheatre.com review by Ivanna Cullinan
July 14, 2010
Occupying our time is possibly the great quandary of the modern soul. With far less manual activity required to survive day to day, time becomes something huge, simple and empty. Strip away the possible diversions of electronic media, and how do people fill that expanse? In the case of LaFabbrica's Aspettando Nil (Waiting for Nil), two women play an incredibly intriguing game of waiting for Him to arrive at this year's undergroundzero festival.
And doesn't waiting for a non-arrival always bring up Waiting for Godot? While there are superficial similarities to Beckett, the waiting and the street person possessions in a cart, to get caught up in that comparison is to miss the point—this piece is its own. The two characters are fully engaged with each other, here and now, more profoundly connected to and affected by each other's responses than to the offstage entity. This is no singular journey but a duet. The movements between them are where the heart of this piece and its resonance exist. Whoever the imminent bridegroom is becomes quickly irrelevant as the circling between these two is riveting. How they are waiting is far more important than the waiting itself.
Director Fabiana Iacozzilli's notes indicate that the conceit is two old women playing a game of mother and daughter preparing for a groom. To be honest, I did not read the notes prior as I prefer to see where a play hits me of its own accord and then take in any additional framework. For me, this meant that this play came off as truly between mother and daughter, and at that level the power dynamics are devastating as well as funny. The debate over who owns a chemise (part of the simple and strong costuming by Valeria Bistoni) goes rapidly from simple argument to hugely cruel to a theatrical dope slap. It is both horrible and horribly funny. Humor is predominant throughout and the marvelous physicality of these actors is unceasingly engaging. Knowing now that both characters were intended to be older simply adds to the poignancy, to the effectiveness of their partnership and pure commitment to the rules of their game.
Entirely in Italian but clearly subtitled via a background screen, this piece has the sly humor of Commedia all'italiana and a somewhat lyrical script that might be found in a mid-twentieth century black-and-white film. However, it is gloriously, adamantly theatrical and very well served by two fantastically skilled actors, Elisa Bongiovanni and Giada Parlanti. They rule that largely bare stage and make it seem by turns larger and then smaller through the strong staging of Iacozzilli. Evocative lighting by Hussein Taheri creates moments of great beauty while also shaping our focus. In terms of production values, this production is an exemplar for the power of simple and well thought out.
Fair warning: if nudity makes you uncomfortable, these characters are not dressed for part of the production. However the nudity is curiously un-sexualized, it is as if they wear their bodies as costumes. There is nothing irrelevant or unnecessary about it, and the purity of physicality is almost Grecian. They are beautiful women but it somehow it isn't the point. The whole of what they are doing is so intriguing.
Waiting for Nil has everything that could be desired in an experimental piece, it is well conceived with a strong cast and design that is intrinsic to the piece. They push the audience but they pay off with a rich experience and don't let their lofty goals get in the way of a solid physical experience. If this is the state of Italian theatre, I want more.