Working on a Special Day Transforms Italian Movie

Chalk Talks at Barrington Stage

By: - Jun 23, 2014

Day Day Day Day Day

Working on a Special Day
Based on Una Giornata Particolare by Ettore Scola, Ruggero Maccari
Adapted by Gigliola Fantoni; Translation by Danya Taymore, Ana Graham and Daniel Gimenez Cacho.
Directed and performed by Ana Graham and Antonio Vega.
Set and Lighting: Gabriel Pascal, Costumes, Ana Graham; Sound, Rodrigo Easpinosa
St. Germain Stage at Barrington Stage Company's Sydelle and Lee Blatt Performing Arts Center
36 Linden Street, Pittsfield, MA
Through July 6.

Arriving for a matinee, I was greeted by a man standing outside casually attired in shorts. “Thank you for coming” he said which surprised me. In the lobby as we enjoyed tea before the show he and a woman were chatting with strangers.

They proved to be the Mexicans Antonio Vega and Ana Graham the actors/directors of the charming and intriguing 76 minute, one act play Working on a Special Day based on Una Giornata Particolare (1977). The Italian film which was nominated for two Academy awards paired Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni.

The actors who have toured widely with this play are members of Mexico’s Por Piedad Teatro, and the New York-based The Play Company. Part of the charm of this play is having Mexicans speaking English portraying Italians. The resultant accents evoked a vertigo of good natured, multi nationalism.

Ultimately the play, which has a grim and at times inaccessible plot, is presented in an upbeat, captivating manner with many brilliant, mind boggling flourishes and comedic accents. Discussing the play after the performance, however, key plot points were far from clear.

As a play, Astrid commented, “It’s a bit thin.” But that didn’t matter as we were riveted by its enthusiasm, legerdemain and invention.

The Special Day occurred in 1938 and a great rally in Rome for a public display of unity between Il Duce and Der Fuehrer.

In an apartment complex Antonietta the mother of six, and Gabriele the mysterious tenant who has lived for three months in apartment three, have opted to stay home. She to make dinner and do laundry and he for darker, more complex reasons.

Chatting with the audience, following the opening speech with artistic director Julianne Boyd, the actors change into their costumes. We felt a tad voyeuristic as Ana pulled up a period girdle and then attached nylon stockings. She added a generic, frumpy, wrap around house dress. We felt the transition from a couple we encountered in the lobby morphing into characters on stage. While this is occurring Ana tells us that we can keep on talking. She asked for advice on what to do on Monday, their day off. A visit to Mass MoCA was suggested. To Antonio she commented "Oh, let's do that."

So it was unclear just when to shut up. We had to individually make up our minds as to when play actually began.

There was a similar experience encountering the U shaped space, painted black, with two entrances on either side of the back wall. There are a few props shuffled about, a table and chairs, crockery, a kid’s scooter. He has a clicker to cue different sound elements from a computer.

We hear the roar of the multitude outside engaging in the rally.

She goes to the window to see the parade and wave to her young son.

First, however, with chalk she draws the window. It is both clever and plausible. Elements of props are drawn as the drama progresses: A parrot in a cage, hanging lamp that needs to be fixed, a gramophone for some rhumba music, a telephone, shoe shapes on the floor for a dancing lesson.

In addition to the chalked up semiotics the actors simulate a range of sound effects from chatter in the hall, ringing door bells and telephones, and the screeching parrot.

The passage way behind the doors is also used to create illusions of movement and traffic within the building. As well as a confusing ending when suitcase in hand he stumbles/ falls or is pushed. If so then by whom?

We see Gabriele alone in his apartment with a gun. Given the fascist theme of the Special Day is he a potential terrorist or assassin? That was my initial take but other opinions prevailed that he was about to commit suicide.

Until raucously disrupted and pulled out of a morose state by the manic housewife desperate to retrieve the parrot perched near his window. Together they conspire to capture it. She produces seeds from her pocket as an enticement. He has the better idea of putting them on the end of a chair gently put out the window as a potential perch. That works.

Thrown together by fate initially they interact awkwardly. There is the familiar ritual of coffee and excuses for its inconvenience.

At least on her part, shades of Bridges of Madison County, romance percolates along with the espresso. Coming to a head while they are hanging laundry on the roof.

Enraged he crudely rebuffs her. He has been a neighbor and after three months she knows nothing about him. Previously he revealed that he is a radio announcer.

Apparently he was fired for being gay. He has a doctor’s note stating that he’s straight. Imagine that he claims with irony. You would only have that note if you’re actually gay. But innuendo is enough to have his obligatory membership in the Fascist party revoked. Is he desperate, the gun, or in danger? There is an implied lover in Sardinia. What about that ambivalent exit to a boat? Is he off to Sardinia? Or a concentration camp? Were there such things in Fascist Italy in 1938? If to a camp then a train is more likely than a ship.

So there are confusions.

But we are enthralled and enraptured by the warmth and invention of the performance and simulation of all of those implied other characters and props.

This is an experience that invites us to imagine what is implied or invisible. It is an interesting adventure that crosses boundaries of illusion and reality as well as time and space.

The movie was an example of Italian realism in cinema. Here, by way of Mexico, it has been transformed to a work of theatrical fantasy. The story is told in the most ancient and primitive manner through drawings on the walls of a cave/ apartment.

Making of it a Paleolithic play.

Now isn’t that interesting?

While I’m not sure what it was about the play evoked a special day that worked for me.