Tosca and the Two Downstairs

Tosca and the Two Downstairs
by Franca Valeri
directed by Laura Caparrotti
Laura Caparrotti
Marta Mondelli
from Kairos Italy Theater and Dicapo Opera
presented in Italian with English supertitles

Spoiler alert!
Tosca and the Two Downstairs is an enormously creative piece from the Kairos Italy Theater, written by Franca Valeri. This two-character drama is set during the action of Tosca; it’s a spoken piece, not sung, the action of which takes place while the second act of the opera is going on offstage.

After an amusing little opening scene, we meet Emilia at the Palazzo Farnese, where she is porter. The play’s exposition consists of her describing the people around her (who are the characters from the opera) to her offstage husband. The two are in the service of Scarpia (the villain of the opera), to whom Emilia is devoted.

Iride enters, wife to Sciarrone (he’s straight from the opera as well). Scarpia is chief of police and Sciarrone, also an unsavory character, is his official torturer.

Iride's very friendly, disarmingly and suspiciously talkative. She needs to gain Emilia’s friendship. Emilia dislikes Iride, and we watch as step by step she softens toward her. Emilia backtracks from time to time, notably when Iride derides Scarpia, but her attitude softens by degrees.

In the second act of Tosca, Tosca’s lover is being tortured there at the palazzo, and from time to time during this play we hear his offstage screams. It’s important, as it gives the play a sort of contextual depth, but it’s rather off-putting.

Finally Iride reveals the purpose of her visit. She asks Emilia for a disguise so that she can run away and escape her husband. Emilia complies, although she’s still not entirely partial to this woman. It’s a complex psychology. Another playwright might have her totally seduced by Iride, but Valeri knows that emotions aren’t simple.

Laura Caparrotti has directed with surety; every beat is clear. The two actresses, Signorina Marta Mondelli and Signorina Caparrotti herself, are splendid. Their respective acting is a smooth flow of emotion.
Lucretia Moroni’s set is as simple as could be – a table and chairs. The backdrop is gorgeous, like a peach skin flattened out. It’s too beautiful, in fact, for the servants’ quarters of a “palace” where men are tortured.

Valeri has given us a very intriguing play about the drama in the lives of the smaller people, the people whose lives aren’t melodrama or, like Tosca’s, histrionic. That is, the people downstairs.

As compelling as the Tosca and the Two Downstairs usually is, and as fascinating as premise, there are passages when we’re bored. The exposition is necessary but not engaging, and Iride’s gaining Emilia’s confidence takes rather too long. But we’re very pleased to find this piece. We’ll be at the next production from Kairos Italy Theater.

March, 2014

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