LaMaMA (New York, off-off-Broadway) has presented an Italian show, from Ravenna, Noise in the Waters, written and directed by Marco Martinelli, It’s a monologue performed by Allesandro Renda, with the help of two musicians.
From the opening moments we’re challenged by the play. The musicians enter and, standing down center, pause to look at us with before proceeding to their stage right chairs. Their gazes express a request for response.
The single actor enters and stands center, where he remains throughout the performance. Renda presents us with a man in a fit of stress so strong it’s as if tension has created a sort of spastic paralysis. His movements, without exception, are abrupt, violent jerks.
The script is written in disjointed free verse. Except for few short passages in English, it’s spoken in Italian with English surtitles projected at the back of the stage. Throughout, Renda growls out his lines.
The disjointed quality of the script challenges us to discover character and situation as the play progresses. At first it’s incoherent. What strikes us most – and the theme is foremost throughout the play – is this man’s fixation on numbers. Fixation to the point of distraction – he dwells obsessively, over and over again, on individual digits and their placement in the number.
Renda is wearing a military uniform, highly medalled, and his allusions tell us that he’s some position of authority. We discern that he’s The General supervising the arrival of refugees on a island south of mainland Italy, who’ve risked their lives to leave Africa for Europe.
Furious and racist, he demeans and rails at the Africans. But we see soon that his emotions are considerably more complex. The first story he tells us is about the Italian ship captain who comes to save the refugees after their raft has capsized. He doesn’t stop the boat’s propellers, thus slicing those in the water. The General can barely express his disgust.
There’s more than enough rage to go around – against the refugees, the Italian captain, the people traffickers, The General’s own superiors. He tells us the story of a young woman raped once she’s arrived in Italy, and the story of a boy who jumps into the water, drowned on the trip to Italy. Rage as he might, he’s revolted by the experiences of the refugees.
He despises his job, the work of “lining them up”. “I do the dirty work” he tells us. Defensive and furious, he shouts “This is my island. I’m the one in charge.”
We glean that The General’s obsession with numbers is a counting of the bodies of refugees. But the numbers, given in no order, are as high as 20,000. We realize that he’s not counting the refugees at hand, but some hallucinatory total of victims drowned.
The singer/musicians sometimes moan sonorously, sometimes sing a simple dirge, sometimes a sort of frenzied dirge, sometimes a cacophony. They’re singing in a Sicilian dialect. Martinelli told me that he hadn’t planned on working with them initially, but that as soon as he heard them, he knew these were the voices of the refugees.
And indeed, their harsh sound is the picture of desperation. Sometimes their voices are so nasal and strident that they sound like distortions. They’re playing instruments from the perimeter of the Mediterranean: harmonium, bağlama, Turkish flute, marimba.
The idea of presenting the plight of the refugees through the man charged with the job of policing them is brilliant. Still, some moment of subtlety would be welcome. This is a unique, stunning show with an incredible full-speed-ahead performance. LaMaMa has again presented an extraordinary production.