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Book Review - Sicilian Tragedee
Original Italian Title: Sicilian Tragedi
Author: Ottavio Cappellani
Original Publisher: Arnoldo Mondadori Editore S.p.A. Milano
English Title: Sicilian Tragedee
Translator: Frederika Randall
Shakespeare in Italian
The book’s tragedy is about staging William Shakespeare in 21st century Sicily, where theatre directors rely on European Union (EU) funding to work, and old school actors are expected the adapt to audiences heavily influenced by cinema and television.
It is also about language. What is the correct language for Shakespeare? Language is a class thing. Working folks globally speak differently from the educated class. Language also depends on a country’s region. In fact, there are many variables that shape how a person speaks her mother tongue or foreign language.
Using dialect actors to stage Romeo and Juliet at San Giovanni la Punta, in Sicily seems to be the heart of the matter in this book. Tino Cagnotto, an aging, heavily in debt theatre director wants to stage this love story one summer in Sicily, but has to run around looking for money and venue.
Shakespeare has always been associated with the rich and educated. Being part of a Shakespeare production used to be the dream of any budding actor or actress. There was a time when actors who did Shakespeare were regarded as great actors, a winning ticket to Hollywood.
Frustrated Theatre Director
Cagnotto wants to use ‘dialect actors.’ This book is a translation from Italian, so I’m not sure what that means in the Sicilian context, but cultural commissioners, who control funds for the arts do not agree with him.
To top it all, city and regional cultural commissioners are bureaucrats and also have their own jealousy thing going on. They have one thing in common though. They do not approve projects without proposals, something that drives Cagnotto up the wall.
Cagnotto’s personal life is also in shambles. He is broke from buying expensive electronic gadgets from television salesmen and is in love with Bobo, a young sales clerk, who is clueless about theatre and the arts in general.
Cagnotto is frustrated because big shots are interested in theatre for the wrong reasons. They want their names in La Voce Della Sicilia. They want to occupy certain seats during the performance. They want to mingle with certain movers and shakers or want a night out with the wife to pretend that their loveless marriages are intact.
It will be restrictive though to call Sicilian Tragedee a purely theatre book, because it is a maze of all things Sicilian: Italian heroes, food, wives vs mistresses, titles like Contessa and Baronessa, a gay director and his young lover, a London-based Italian who is gobbling up all the oil-rich property in Sicily, and cultural commissioners who don’t know anything about theatre.
The book is heavy for someone who does not speak Sicilian because the author kept everything authentic. Characters eat Sicilian food such as ripiddu nivicatu and he describes the ingredients. Road and orchestra names are in Italian.
Patience is advised though, because the plot thickens during a party hosted by the Contessa, where all the players who can either make or break Cagnotto’s production of Romeo and Juliet, at San Giovanni la Punta are present. There is intrigue in the air.
Sicilian Tragedee is a slow book for takeaway readers in a rush to go somewhere, but a tasty find for people who love discovering new stories and are willing to sit down and read it, laugh, learn about life in modern Sicily and think about their own theatre and its future. Is there a future? Is Shakespeare dead?
Book Review Conclusion
The journey might be bumpy because the author and original publisher decided on gritty urban language full of words like shit, fuck, bitch, balls and other words that represent the 21st century.
If readers survive that, they will encounter tasty morsels such as, ‘sad, solitary and abandoned, a blue suit hangs, depressed from a hanger. Cagnotto stares at it with pity, for himself and the suit.’ P. 20.
Conclusion of the book review? How about some vocabulary? Cagnotto is always looking for raccomandazione for his projects. I like it. Raccomandazione!