If Phaedra's madness is called love


By John

Suffer, Phaedra. And no one seems to understand why: his pain is impenetrable. Like that gigantic and expressionless face (more of a model for phrenologists, the pseudoscientists who measured skulls, than a simulacrum) that stands out in the bare scene. We, however, know it: Aphrodite herself told us, haughtily coming down from the audience (cold and dazzling, in gold and white and with sharp speech, the statuesque Ilaria Genatiempo). Two goddesses open and close – as they usually do with the destinies of men – the second of the tragedies on stage at the Greek Theater of Syracuse for the 59th season of classical performances of Inda«Phaedra (crown-bearing Hippolytus)» by Euripides, directed by Paul Curran.

After the magniloquences of «Ajax», and always on the theme of the madness desired by the gods which blinds and loses, despite themselves, men, it is the turn of an almost psychological drama (with the caution necessary to use this term, for the ancient and very ancient theater ), reported entirely in the words of Euripides, which Nicola Crocetti's translation restores in all their airy, literary elegance and a formidable company of actors, very well directed, soul. The power of the word, moreover, is the driving force in the bare and gray scene imagined by Gary McCann, a place under restoration or construction (but for us in the South the eternal “unfinished” comes to mind rather, where the construction fades, forever, into restoration), an interior palace where two tragedies actually take place : of Phaedra and Hippolytus, the stepson with whom the queen is, due to the mania inspired by Aphrodite, madly in love, and who is in fact the character of Euripides' original title (“Crowned Hippolytus”). On the other hand, Phaedra – the true protagonist – is a powerful heroine who never ceases to be aroused and told, from Euripides and Seneca to modern female pens, from Marguerite Yourcenar to Nadia Fusini, because the quality of her intimate disagreement calls into question the everlasting forces of the psyche and the mystery of relationships.

AND there is an “inside” and an “outside”, in which Phaedra and Hippolytus move without (what a mockery) actually meeting. The space of confinement of the house and of the role, for the woman in the highly misogynistic society of ancient Greece, the space of the psyche that Phaedra (Alessandra Salamida) fully overcomes a difficult test: modulating the obsession without succumbing, forcefully showing us the comings and goings of his heart and his reason between guilt, exaltation, shame) travels and retraces in search of a handle to counteract the unstoppable storm of love, the closed space of the female world: the chorus, sometimes “with their mouths closed”, of women of Trezene (excellent co-stars Simonetta Cartia, Giada Lorusso, Elena Polic Greco, Maria Grazia Solano; and then Valentina Corrao, Aurora Miriam Scala, Maddalena Serratore, Giulia Valentini, Alba Sofia Vella, directed by Francesca Della Monica), in classic costumes handmaiden (Gary McCann's costumes contaminate eras and worlds, with a predilection for certain spots of color, the acid yellow of Phaedra's dress or the overly distinctive work clothes of the servants in Civil Defense uniform, as well as rather incongruous, at a certain point a mobile phone and Theseus' gun will seem…), the nurse (the perfect Gaia Aprea leads her descent into truth with exemplary clarity and charismatic attitude) who, with her improvident love and her will to helping Phaedra actually causes her ruin. AND one of the highest moments is undoubtedly the intense dialogue between Phaedra and the nursewhich marks the moment of revelation, and is also exaltation, with the tragic counterpoint of Phaedra's obsessive pain, of an ancient theme: the omnipotence of eros, “the sweetest and most painful thing at the same time”, a rapacious force that “it cannot be stopped.”

And as we find – as Phaedra finds – the words to say it, the scene (intimate, exposed) also comes to life: images, lights, features are projected onto the impenetrable face that looms large in the center of the scaffolding (videodesign Leandro Summo). The goddess, the woman, love, death, water and fire: everything is revealed on that stone face. Just as the word does on the stage, in the inexorable tragic mechanism of Euripides (well described by the “playwright” Francesco Morosi).

Perhaps the strongest image is that of a very intense female face, bright eyes and lips, gigantic, which dominates everything. Extremely resonant image – even if it is certainly not the director's intentions – in the world of MeToo and the feminine that reassembles history and can rewrite it.
An image that contrasts with the (very famous) misogynistic monologue of Ippolito, inhabitant of the “other” world, the external and limitless one of males. The young Riccardo Livermore animates with a surplus of energy an enthusiastic and athletic Hippolytus, who Curran shows us in a pop glitter jacket at the head of a hippie mob, between Hair and Woodstock (which is truly bizarre, for the Artemis worshipers who make absolute chastity and contempt for eros are their existential program, so much so as to arouse the wrath of Aphrodite…). The music by Matthew Barnes, with an arrangement by Ernani Maletta, initially echoes the psychedelic wave of the Sixties, and then condenses into “other” sounds, dissonances and distortions, as the drama progresses and all joy fades away.

All “outside”, Ippolito, dedicated to virile sports and chaste friendships, without regard for the voices inside and the calls of eros. And when the note from the suicidal Phaedra accuses him of a crime he never committed, his tragedy will begin. Because his father Teseo (Alessandro Albertin admirably supports, with strength and variety of tones, his stubborn blindness and then the pain of the revelation) will condemn him without appeal, only to then change his mind, in a very intense scene, on the boy's deathbed, struck by Poseidon (he who had denied the body and its joys becomes bloody flesh) and also abandoned by his “friend” goddess, the adored Artemis (to whom Giovanna Di Rauso gives contemptuous deafness to human feeling). A father scene, we could say.
The gods betray, condemn, turn their backs. We have only our feelings to be better than them.

Also in the cast are the excellent Sergio Mancinelli (the servant) and Marcello Gravina (the messenger who vividly recounts Ippolito's fatal accident), and the boys from the Academy of Art of Ancient Drama, a solid certainty. It continues until June 28th, alternating with “Aiace” and then “Miles Gloriosus”.