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Teatro e dintorni

"The Dis-Adventures of Peter Pan vs. Capitan Maledetto"

una recensione americana al nostro spettacolo a New York di Ottobre 1998

This article was originally published in The Villager. Reprinted with permission.

"The Dis-Adventures of Peter Pan vs. Capitan Maledetto"
Adapted and directed by Dario D' Ambrosi, Composed by John La Barbera, Set Design by Jun Maeda, Sound Design by Tim Schellenbaum, Light design by Danilo Facco
Cast: Dario D'Ambrosi, Gianluigi Capone, Elio Cesari, Stefano Amati, Paolo Porto, Paolo Sansone, Antonella Zucca, Elena Di Feliceantonia, Sebastiano Alfei, Giovanni Sasone, Giuseppe De Falco, Zishan Ugurlu, Gaia Carletti, Antonella Altocecci, Fortunato Caristo.
LaMaMa E.T.C. Annex Theater, 74A East Fourth Street
Thursdays through Sundays at 7:30 p.m. plus Sunday matinees at 3:00 p.m.
$15 TDF (212) 475-7710
Reviewed by Randy Gener October 11, 1998
It takes a degree of fearlessness to attend a Dario D'Ambrosi production--and a touch of madness. At least, that's what it might seem like on the surface since his plays are performed mostly in Italian. But intrepid theatergoers who probe into "The Dis-Adventures of Peter Pan vs. Capitan Maldetto" will find the experience greatly rewarding and perversely entertaining.
In performance, the Italian performance artist wins you over because he is so irreverent; he bends over backwards to make sure his productions are fully understood by English-speaking audiences. Their subject matter is challenging in the literal sense, too. Whatever the artifice he has chosen to draw inspiration from (Sam Beckett, Shakespeare's Richard III), the plays never waver from the core of their concern: the plight of real people with mental disabilities.

So if you consider that D'Ambrosi has been reconnoitering this terrain in Italy since 1979 and that his plays have been presented at La MaMa for 18 years now, it's pretty fair to say that his interest in living and working and collaborating with the mentally disabled goes beyond insanity. His theater is a form of social realism that is also an idee fixe. With unusual openness and frankness,, his theatrical aesthetic openly embraces the extremity of their forms, emotions and ideas, and it is, thus, called teatro patologico.

D'Ambrosi's latest presentation, "The Dis-Adventures of Peter Pan vs. Capitan Maldetto" is firmly in keeping with his yearly theatrical obsessions at La MaMa. Remarkably, it is his shortest, most daring, and his bravest. For one, some of the cast members are literally Italians with mental disabilities. Ten of the ensemble performers in the cast are members of an Italian voluntary center in Rome called "The White Horse (Il Cavallo Bianco)" which, the program says, is "created by and for young people with and without mental disabilities."

Before Arlene Croce's ilk can claim "victim art," D'Ambrosi subverts sensationalism or unseemliness by deploying one hilarious piece of irony: no character is more perverted or more insane than D'Ambrosi himself in the role of Capitan Maldetto. How insane is he? How perverted? When D'Ambrosi first enters the stage, lording over the innocent children (played by the mentally disabled Italians) from the top of his stoop, a pirate refers to him as "Capitan Pedophilia."

Indeed, while "The Dis-Adventures of Peter Pan vs. Capitan Maldetto" might seem like yet another tired version of J. M. Barrie famous classic (didn't Mabou Mines just perform "Peter & Wendy" at Yale Rep?), D'Ambrosi gives the myth one more surge of electrical shock and brings it to subversive life. Capitan Maldetto terrorizes the kids every chance he can get. He paws their bare open legs. He delights in the shape of their buttocks. He films them with his movie camera obsessively, even when they are not doing anything particularly interesting. In fact, the image of D'Ambrosi totting a video camera around may just be one of the most pointed symbols of the culture of child molesting and abuse. Wearing a black-coat and a Nazi-like swastika armband, Capitan Maldetto represents the fascism of adulthood. Licking a lollipop and playing with toys, he is depicted with grim humor and bitter irony; he personifies how modern society eroticizes empty innocence through the media, how children are both fetish objects and innocent victims of an unbelievable and relentless scrutiny by the capitalist-consumerist-industrial structure.

In D'Ambrosi's version, which is informed by a zany mixture of pantomime and commedia dell'arte, Peter Pan flies by walking on stilts. At the moment of greatest terror, he saves the day by sprinkling magic dust on Tinker Bell who then metastasizes into the ticking crocodile. Though Peter Pan is an archetype of infantilism, he is more than a perfect nemesis to Capitan Maldetto. In a turn-of-plot thematically echoing "My Kingdom for a Horse" (1996) in which Richard III is a schizo fetus trapped in an internal dialogue with his unloving mother, D'Ambrosi's Capitan Maldetto eventually regresses into childhood himself. He sucks on his hook arm the way a baby sucks a thumb. The suggestion here is that of arrested development. He may have been abused himself as a child. Certainly he is revealed to be unable to love.

Smart enough to know that the Peter Pan myth is well traveled terrain, D'Ambrosi does not sustain his theatrical version for more than an hour. And the result is that, despite the terrifying subject matter of child molestation, he actually manages to throw in a delightful waltz. After the Freudian regression of Capitan Maldetto's into a heartless inner child, D'Ambrosi provides happy and vivacious relief. Looking back, the rational side of me is not quite sure if the euphoric ending makes logical sense. But as performance-art that serves the purposes of actors with mental disabilities, it's certainly their special prerogative to end on a high note.

While dealing defiantly and shrewdly with a controversial subject matter, "The Dis-Adventures of Peter Pan vs. Capitan Maldetto" features a stunning, scarily suggestive darkly woodsy Never-Neverland set by designer Jun Maeda and a boisterous musical band (percussion by Genji Ito, piano by Kenneth Laufer, violin by Yuliya Ziskec). Compared to D'Ambrosi's past La MaMa shows, "The Dis-Adventures" is sprightlier, livelier and bracingly unexploitative. Paradoxically enough, it's also the most utterly charming of D'Ambrosi's allegorical explorations of the irrational. You'd be a fool to miss it. [Gener]

by Jerry Tallmer

They are lost boys, in Never-Never Land. The Never-Never Land, not of Peter and Wendy, but of a mental institution.

"My mother loved me more than your mothers loved you," says one of these boys. "She came more than once to try to take me back . . . but it was Daddy who didn't want to take me back home. How I'd like Cinderella to be my mother."

"All that I remember about my mother," says a second boy, "is that she often used to say to Daddy: 'Oh, how I'd like to have a checkbook all for myself.' I don't know what a checkbook is," says the boy, "but I'd like to give one to my mother. Actually I'd like to give her a bank card."

"Who knows," says a third boy, "if in the real story, the witch ever gave Cinderella any pills."

"Or maybe she tried to give her an electroshock?" says yet another. "The witch in Cinderella is like Captain Pedophile."

Enter Captain Pedophile, with a hook where his right hand should be. The hook holds a moviemaker's light meter.

Captain Pedophile, child pornographer, also known as Capitan Maledetto ("Bad Guy"), is about to shoot one of his XXX-rated films, creating circumstances considerably uglier for these boys who have to star in it than anything blustered by dear old Captain Hook in the James M. Barrie classic.

But in the end, just like Hook, Pedophile the pirate has to face an avenging Peter Pan -- a Pedophile high overhead on his movie dolly, a Peter Pan on stilts.

"For me," said Dario D'Ambrosi in his admirably achieved English, "is incredible step. A year ago these boys, the ten I bring with me from Rome for La MaMa, they can't talk. Now they talk." He means it literally.

In Rome, last December, when D'Ambrosi premiered his "Dis-Adventures of Peter Pan vs. Capitan Maledetto" at the Teatro Valle, "we have 25 ill children from 18 years to 35" in the cast.

"In Italy, a very big moment, on television and everything, because now in Italy we have this very big problem about pedophile. I don't know why. Maybe because of the Internet or something."

The "Dis-Adventures of Peter Pan," which played through Sunday, October 18, at La MaMa's Annex, 66 E. 4th St., is, by D'Ambrosi's reckoning, the 16th show he's done at La MaMa since the first one, "Tuti non ci sono" ("Everybody's Not Here"), 19 years ago.

It is also 19 years, or a bit more, that onetime professional soccer hero Dario D'Ambrosi, survivor of a rough, difficult boyhood in working-class Naples, has been working with young (and less young) mental patients.

What had started him off was wanting to find out what the violence of some of his buddies -- the paranoia and schizophrenia of the streets -- was all about.

To this end, the rugged 20-year-old soccer player had put himself for some months of watching and learning into Rome's Santa Maria de la Pieta psychiatric clinic. At the same time he'd founded his own theater company, the Gruppo Teatrale Dario D'Ambrosi (since renamed Teatro Patalogical). Later, in New York, D'Ambrosi spent further study hours in Bellevue's mental wards.

The marriage of theater with pathology has keynoted his astonishing accomplishment ever since, not least the 1996 "Un regno per il meio cavallo" ("My Kingdom for a Horse"), in which D'Ambrosi, solo, became a schizophrenic Richard III in fetus, raving from his mother's womb.

And yes, D'Ambrosi said now, there is indeed much pathologically in common between today's "Dis-Adventures of Peter Pan" and the late Pier Paolo Pasolini's ultra-controversial 1975 shocker, "Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom," with its enslaved, degraded teenagers writhing around the floor in pornographic obeisance before their Fascist overmasters.

"Oh yeah," D'Ambrosi said. "Absolutely. You're right, you just touched something. So strong the connection. Many relations between that film and this show."

The Peter Pan of the piece at La MaMa was Gianluigi Capone, the Tinker Bell is Stefano Amati, the Wendy was "a man, a very old man, well, not very old, in his 40s, a singer" named Elio Cesary, other leading roles were taken by Paolo Porto, Paolo Sansone, and Antonella Zocca, while among the many supporting players -- pirates, and the like -- were five hospital attendants who have accompanied the 10 patients from Rome.

There is music in the show, of course -- by John La Barbera -- but. writer/director D'Ambrosi acknowledged with a sheepish forgive-me shrug, no Nana, the beloved sheepdog/nurse.

And the Captain Hook, or Captain Pedophile, or Capitan [STET] Maledetto?

Smiling broadly, big, tanned, oval-faced, bald-as-an-egg Dario D'Ambrosi pointed to his own chest.

"Wait till you see," he said, "when this Pedophile, this Captain Hook, unscrews the hook of his hand, so it shows -- how you say? -- that thing of a baby bottle . . . yes, the nipple. And sucks from it the milk. And says: 'I am angry at the world because I never had milk from my mother.' "

No, D'Ambrosi says, he himself did not read or know about "Peter Pan" as a kid. "It was bad, violent, my infance. But now I have the two girls" -- daughters Michela, 8, and Maria Grazia, 6, their mother being his set-designer wife, Loredana D'Ambrosi -- "and so now I can love, with them, the incredible stuff I missed in my infance."

And that's how he at long last caught up with "Peter Pan" in the 1953 Disney version. "Was magic. Really magic."

The long-ago soccer ace -- "offence, the guy who puts the ball inside" -- still plays from time to time. "No team. Just friends, you know."

After a pause: "For me, soccer is really something in my heart. With theater I did something worth in my life. My destiny is theater. But my heart is in soccer."

Peter Pan, the boy who never grew older, the boy without a shadow, would have understood that. [Tallmer]

THE DIS-ADVENTURES OF PETER PAN vs. CAPITAN MALDETTO, written and directed by Dario D'Ambrosi, was presented by La MaMa E.T.C. in its Annex Theater, 66 E. 4th St., through October 18.

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