In a limited engagement running from June 25-29, the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, in collaboration with the Italian Ministry of Cultural Affairs and Italian Cultural Institute of Chicago, presented Inner Voices as part of its World’s Stage series. This production, performed in Italian with English projection, brought the work of the renowned Piccolo Teatro di Milano-Teatro Europa to Chicago in a delightful performance suitable for English and Italian speakers alike.
Written in 1948 by celebrated Italian playwright Eduardo De Filippo, Inner Voices tells the story of a man, Alberto Saporito, who dreams so vividly of the murder of his friend that he believes the event actually took place. What follows is a series of darkly humorous mishaps as Alberto, the Cimmaruta family, and the police try to sort out what is truth and what is fiction.
The show is divided into three short sections which, in this production, are performed straight through without intermission. The first section takes place in the home of the Cimmarutas, an extended family living together in the same apartment building as Alberto and his brother Carlo. Chiara Baffi, who played Maria, the maid, shined in this opening section, moving from upbeat, playful banter to a serious and lengthy monologue with no loss of artistry. Betti Pedrazzi’s portrayal of the female head of the household, Rosa Cimmatura, was also engaging and highly believable. Indeed, the cast as a whole had a remarkable use of physicality in their roles, and this use of the body to tell the story, combined with the stark white set in which it took place, made for a visually and mentally stimulating first section.
The second section shifts significantly in place and theme. The setting moves to the home of the Saporito brothers, where we meet Uncle Nicola, the brothers’ eccentric uncle who has given up speaking and communicates only through fireworks. The set now features several strings of suspended chairs behind a scrim, a striking effect that both reminds the audience of the Saporitos’ failing business as renters of furniture and sets a more surreal tone for the middle section of the production. And surreal is exactly what the story becomes. One by one, the members of the Cimmaruta family come to Alberto to confess their suspicions that another member of their family did, in fact, murder Aniello Amitrano. Toni Servillo, the show's director who also played the protagonist, Alberto, really demonstrated his experience as an actor in this section, as Alberto experiences fear, confusion, and frustration in turn. Maria Angela Robustelli, who played the wife of the supposedly murdered Aniello, was also a standout in this section, where her brief but explosive hysteria at the news of her husband’s “murder” was one of the comedic high points of the show.
The final section, in which we return to the stark white setting of the first act, resolves all previously raised questions. Maria makes another brief but memorable appearance at the beginning of the act, when she quits her job and flees the town, insisting that the Cimmarutas are plotting to kill Alberto for accusing them, and Alberto reflects that he finally understands the silence of the now-deceased Uncle Nicola, since words have done nothing but get him into trouble. Aniello Amitrano appears onstage in the last few minutes of the show, determining once and for all that the murder was simply a dream. In a profound and expertly executed final monologue, Servillo's Alberto tells the Cimmarutas that the real crime was in their readiness to accuse their own flesh and blood of murder.
Overall, this production was highly dynamic and engaging. The cast of fourteen Neapolitan actors brought De Filippo’s text to life, and the intimate space of the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre demanded the audience’s engagement in the story. At times humorous and at times profound, Inner Voices was two hours of quality theatre-making that transcended the boundaries of time, language, and nationality.